Royal Credit Union Provides Free Financial Education Outreach Throughout Region
Kathy Buyze and Melissa Janssen are gearing up for another year of community education. It’s not the kind relegated to stuffy board rooms and lecture halls, but the kind that takes place in buzzing classrooms full of fourth- and fifth-graders, in branch locations where high school students develop employment skills during internships, online in fun videos, in jails where vulnerable individuals learn valuable personal finance habits, and in the Royal Credit Union headquarters itself. Kathy and Melissa’s mission at Royal is to uplift the Chippewa Valley by providing financial education at every stage of life. To that end they oversaw more than 750 presentations for area young people, and countless more for community members of all ages.
In October 2018, fourth- and fifth-graders at Chippewa Valley elementary schools flocked to apply for a slot in the School $ense program. The application process consists of a paper form followed by an interview. Not every student is selected, but every student receives feedback on their application and interview skills. The ones who are hired go on to staff a real Royal branch in the school. It’s open once a week so that students can make deposits or withdraw money from their own Royal accounts.
“It doesn’t matter how much or how small – they can deposit a penny each week,” Kathy said. The kids are rewarded for saving with prizes ranging from bouncy balls to T-shirts. Program participants work with Royal staff to facilitate the transactions and market the branch within the school with posters, announcements, and more. Royal donates $250 to participating schools for every 500 deposits made at the school site branch, further incentivizing good saving habits. Some schools receive as much as $1,000 over the course of the academic year.
The fun doesn’t stop in elementary school! Royal offers student-run school site banking to area middle schools as well, expanding their responsibilities as they get older. And, just a few years later in high school, Royal offers paid internships that allow teenagers to gain valuable work experience both at school sites and at local credit union branches in the Chippewa Valley.
Every step of the way through the school site programs, Royal mentors provide students with classes in financial literacy from bill and coin recognition to savings and up through identity protection. These programs are tailored to the needs of each school, and involve activities inside the classroom as well as training exercises in the grand, high-ceilinged halls of the Royal headquarters in downtown Eau Claire.
“The cumulative is that we’ve educated them throughout their school years, and hopefully we’ve given them a strong base on being financially sound,” she continued. “Not only is it great to give back to the school and the community, but we’re giving the workers that real-life work experience, and working with the rest of the students to help them get into the habit of saving that money and paying themselves first.”
Other Royal Programs for youth include Future U.S. Entrepreneurs (F.U.S.E.), a six-week program for middle-schoolers that culminates in a “Shark Tank”-like pitch presentation; Financial Education Takeover Day, where the Superheroes of Savings take over area classrooms; and Test Drive … Next Stop Reality, in which high school students are challenged to manage an imaginary budget based on their career path and randomly selected circumstances.
Supporting the Community Through Thick and Thin
In addition to youth education and general community outreach, Royal also invests in financial education programs for inmates at the Eau Claire, Barron, and Dunn county jails. People who have served time in the correctional system are often at a greater risk of experiencing financial hardship or identity theft, Melissa, who oversees the program, explained. Royal’s jail outreach program helps them fight back.
“We work with incarcerated individuals and we teach them about basic budgeting, money management, and then credit reports, credit scores, how to avoid predatory lenders,” Melissa said. “Basically, kind of anything and everything that you would need.” She is often stopped on the street by people she taught through the jail program, who thank her for the knowledge she shares.
“I think a lot of people have this fear of going in and talking about money, but if you’re not talking about it you’re not learning about it, and when you don’t learn how to manage your money that’s when you make mistakes,” Melissa said. Every program she organizes is meant to teach people that it’s OK to talk about money, opening an educational dialogue that will improve the lives of generations.
Royal is expanding educational offerings every day. For more information on financial education opportunities, visit www.rcu.org/youth-community. If you are interested in hosting a community education program a business, class, or group, email firstname.lastname@example.org. “The best part about my job is that I get to provide free financial education to anyone and everyone,” Melissa said.
Royal Credit Union
Locations throughout Chippewa Valley