In volleyball there’s a popular phrase: “better the ball.” Anyone who’s seen a libero dig a blistering hard line spike or go horizontal for the pancake can relate. At Laguna Pueblo, the phrase comes with a twist thanks to Denyse Carr (Laguna Pueblo/Hopi). A standout volleyball player in high school, Denyse has taken what she learned on the court and applied it to a career. I call it “better the borrower” and here’s why.
Six years ago Denyse became an assistant loan officer at Native Community Finance, a Laguna-based CDFI. Fresh out of high school, the eager teen cut her teeth processing loan applications and performing administrative duties. Within a year she transitioned into a loan officer and, eventually, a financial education trainer.
“I was our youngest staff person and younger than a lot of my clients,” she explains. “Early on I was looked down upon because I didn’t have much experience. But I knew I could do the job and wanted to be an inspiration for people my own age.”
Denyse’s straightforward and honest approach won over clients. She assisted borrowers with budgets and credit reports, taught classes and workshops, and in partnership with the tribe, introduced a new first time homebuyers’ class. Like bumping a tough cut shot, she worked hard to “better her borrowers” by stressing that a home’s value is worth sacrificing dinners out and trips to the movies.
“It’s an amazing feeling when you have the satisfaction of helping a dream come true,” Denyse says proudly. “I worked with people my own age along with elders and seniors. I especially enjoyed seeing eyes light up when people learned something new about their finances.”
Once Denyse ran into a younger couple who she jokes she’d “known since diapers.” She encouraged them to check out a homebuyer class and introduced them to mortgages, land assignments, and construction types. Later she supported them in buying a home and helped them during the final walk-through on the property and closing of their own mortgage.
Another time she helped a couple whose purchase was delayed because of a policy change.
“They were trying to be patient while living in a rental unit that was set to be torn down,” she recalls. “It was really rewarding because you could see the weight and worry lift off their shoulders when they were finally handed the keys to their new home.”
Always an innovator, Denyse holds an impressive resume that extends beyond homeownership and lending. This includes a project with the Laguna Higher Education Department to design a financial literacy class for college-bound students. In addition, she’s coached Individual Development Account savers and done Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.
Then last fall she accepted a new challenge by signing on as a revenue auditor with Laguna Development Corporation. Still serving her community’s financial needs, she’s traded in her trainer’s flipchart for spreadsheets and accounting software. She concedes that she no longer has the pleasure of working with clients but thrives in a new environment of debits, credits and operating budgets. Her primary focus is keeping an eye out for formula issues while looking for variances in accounts that include Laguna Development Corporation’s food and beverage operations, cashiers, table games, travel centers, hotel and my personal favorite – Laguna Burger! Still committed to financial education, she sees an opportunity for Laguna Development Corporation, as a gaming entity, to create its own financial education classes, as opposed to making referrals to outside gambling-addiction services.
Denyse has also recently embarked on another exciting challenge: parenthood. As the proud mother of Mariann, her one-year-old daughter, she’s learning a lot about herself and a new type of formula – the kind that comes in a bottle.
“Being a parent is a whole different experience,” she adds. “My daughter has made me realize how strong I am. She’s my own little customer to train and teach.”
When not busy working and raising her child, Denyse runs 5Ks, plays in two volleyball leagues, and devotes time to religious practices. And she’s a student herself, working on an associate’s degree in business and construction management, an experience that has only strengthened and clarified her vision for Indian Country.
“I would love to see more educational tools for youth who choose to attend a large university,” she shared. “We’re not taught about the reality when leaving the Rez. So we need expanded resources for younger students and older ones, too. We are smart, we are prepared, and we are self-sustainable.”
Denyse Carr has far exceeded her original goal set at age 19. She isn’t just an inspiration to people her own age, she’s an inspiration to people of all ages. Thank you Denyse, for all that you do!