Joe Duran was 5 years old and didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived in the Central Valley.
“I walked into a classroom where I was the only Spanish speaker,” he recalled. “There was nobody else.”
That early experience set the tone for the direction he would take in life. He learned important lessons, including how to overcome his fears and “be able to look at things and not let an environment dictate who you think you should be or what you can or cannot achieve.”
That mindset provided a foundation that propelled his successful 30-plus year career as a leader of financial institutions that specialize in community development. Moreover, it allowed him to be a positive example to others and give back to his community through service.
His efforts, success story and can-do spirit are among the reasons Stanislaus State and the College of Business Administration have chosen Duran as the University’s 2023 Champions of the American Dream Honoree.
Duran will participate in a fireside chat and hopes that sharing his story will inspire students and others during the annual Champions of the American Dream event at Stanislaus State Thursday, April 20, in Main Dining. The event starts at 5:30 p.m.
“To be recognized as a Champion of the American Dream, quite frankly, is really humbling,” Duran said. “There is no way I ever could have anticipated that I’d even be considered for something like this. It reflects the partnerships and the relationships that I have built and the community that I live in. That has made it possible to get things done.”
Duran currently serves as president of Stanislaus Equity Partners (STEP), a community development corporation based in Modesto. The agency’s mission is to empower residents by providing access to asset-building opportunities through housing, small business services and affordable lending.
Prior to his current role at STEP — for which he came out of retirement — Duran was the executive vice president for Self-Help Federal Credit Union. Prior to joining Self-Help in 2009, Duran was president and chief executive officer for Community Trust Credit Union. The merger between Self-Help and Community Trust formed a network that provided financing to more than 102,000 families of modest means in the Central Valley, Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and across the country.
“For over 40 years, Joe Duran has served our community and inspired us through his tireless leadership and devotion to developing our future leaders through service to working-class people, small business owners and non-profits,” said Stan State’s Pablo Paredes Romero, the Porges Champions Faculty Fellow for the Warrior Entrepreneurship Initiative. “His influence and inspiration are evident in the generations of leaders in the Central Valley and beyond he has mentored and, through his work, the many dreams he helped to launch.
“When I was growing up, people painted a picture of what a leader should be that didn’t resemble people who looked, sounded and thought like me; people who came from Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia, all Latino America — just for a shot at a better life. When I looked for heroes, people like Joe were my proof, my hope and my model to emulate so that I could someday address a community like this and be a part of that cyclical phenomenon of service leadership.”
Duran says he is excited to share his journey with others at the Champions of the American Dream event.
“Attendees are going to hear me be very real and very transparent,” he said. “I’m going to talk a lot about my childhood growing up and what’s motivated me. There have been a lot of challenges that I had to go through. I’m going to be very frank. Some of that involved going through pain points but being able to overcome obstacles.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be, I think, about how thankful I am and the opportunities that we’ve been able to work through to create some really cool things in our community.”