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Improving lives through early financial education

Mt. Hood

Clackamas Credit Union showcases literacy efforts during National Credit Union Youth Month.

Clackamas Credit Union employees are handing out Berenstain Bears books to members nine years old and younger who walk through their doors this month.

“The Berenstain Bears Visit the Credit Union,” a story about brother and sister bears saving their money and opening a credit union account, is being distributed through a partnership with the Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program and as part of National Credit Union Youth Month.

Shannon Wakeman, marketing manager at the $614 million asset credit union in Milwaukie, Ore., says the month-long celebration centers around making the credit union a fun, educational place for kids, which can lead to increased financial stability and an improved future.

“Our mission is to improve people’s lives,” Clackamas Vice President of Member Engagement Luke McMurray says. “That’s a broad mission, but it’s something that we take seriously. From the low income to the high income, there’s so much financial stress. We can alleviate some of that if people learn to be wise stewards and managers of their finances.”

April is also U.S. Financial Literacy Month, which ties in seamlessly to National Credit Union Youth Month. McMurray tells high school students, “If you’ll commit to learning how to spend and budget wisely, you’ll reap the rewards for years.”

With that outlook, Clackamas’ programs treat budgeting as something to aspire to. It can be a mindset shift for some people.

“We’re constantly bombarded by messaging to spend more money, but we don’t get that exposure to how to save money, how to budget, or how to be smart with money,” Clackamas Community Relations Specialist Jacklyn Olive says. “It’s important to start at a young age so the message sticks.”

Clackamas’ efforts earned the credit union a 2021 Desjardins Youth Award, which honors commitment to financial literacy.
Clackamas received the award for working with financial literacy partners, such as Financial Beginnings, to adapt to a virtual environment and teach 53 classes to 1,264 students in 2020.

The credit union also implemented a scholarship program in 2021, giving five $1,000 scholarships to area high school seniors each year. It also works with Special Olympics for a class series that includes topics such as introductory spending and budgeting for a healthy meal.

Other partnerships that allow Clackamas employees to provide financial literacy to young people include Word is Bond, which connects young males with police officers as mentors, and Sandy Blended Learning, a continuation high school whose students receive lessons on topics like renting an apartment, taxes, investment, and retirement.

Olive also does one-on-one financial counseling at Parrott Creek, an Oregon City organization that provides child and family services. Parrot Creek has a transitional house for young men on parole. When they get a job, Olive goes to the house and helps them plan their paychecks, determine what their goals are, and get started in life.

With that variety of programming, Clackamas does its best to cover its financial education bases at all age levels.

“My kindergarten class covers the same topics I cover with my seniors, but at a very different level of information,” Olive says. “For elementary school, it’s about budgeting, introduction to banking, introduction to spending, savings, and a little bit of history of money.

“As we get to seniors in high school, we add in credit and savings tied into investing,” she continues. “We even touch on retirement, income, and taxes; what to do with your first paycheck; understanding your first paycheck; and paying taxes.”

Clackamas’ financial education is often filled with interactive activities, such as having kids draw a dollar bill, and two-way conversations.

“I don’t teach anything. I just talk to people and have them talk back to me,” Olive says.

The most common question she hears from older youth is, “How do I establish credit?” It’s typically framed in a specific way, such as “How do I get my first apartment?”

Olive says Clackamas’ financial literacy perspective is, “Who needs help most?” and “How do we help people?” Credit unions help fill that role, providing experts who can meet with kids, educate, and propel the community forward.

“Clackamas has a huge heart for underserved communities and underserved markets,” Wakeman says, adding that many parents don’t have the skills or the knowledge to pass on to their kids. Financial education is “not just a marketing talking point or one person’s job here. Organizationally, everyone finds the value.”