MADISON, Wis. (2/17/16)--Credit unions have strong ties to education through their history of serving teachers and providing financial education to schools. More recently, credit unions have developed another educational tie: providing classroom grants to teachers and schools.
As school districts continue to experience budget cuts, classroom grants provide teachers with funds to pay for projects and programs they couldn't otherwise afford.
For example, through its charitable foundation, First Financial FCU, Wall, N.J., awarded Lanes Mill Elementary School EXCEL teacher Cathy Heuser a $500 classroom grant to purchase materials to help with environmental projects in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M) classroom in her school in Brick, N.J.
Another First Financial grant recipient, Jennifer Suralik Quintenz, Pinelands Regional Junior High School basic skills/intervention specialist, will use the funds to coordinate a Thanksgiving celebration for families of students in need following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy--even more three years later.
The First Financial Foundation has been offering the grants since 1994, according to Nicole Baniowski, marketing coordinator at the credit union. "We were founded as a teacher's credit union back in 1936, so this is a real soft spot for us. We do as much as we can for teachers and local schools within Monmouth and Ocean counties. Every summer we give out scholarships to college students as well, it's something we're really proud of," Baniowski told News Now.
Schools also are among the core select employee groups of Foothill FCU, Arcadia, Calif. Last year, the credit union awarded $18,000 in classroom grants of up to $200 each. “We do so much for the kids, whether its advertising for sports or buying band uniforms; it’s nice to be able to do something that fulfills the teachers’ needs,” Stacy Arena, Foothill FCU marketing director, told News Now.
The credit union also views the grants as a means of recognizing the teachers, Arena said. “We don’t just send them a check,” she added. “We have fun with it. We award the check and a certificate in front of their peers, so they’re able to talk about they’re doing with the grant and why they wanted to help the students.
“It’s good for us to get our name out there, but it’s good for the other teachers to see that these grants really pay off. I think it also looks good in the principal’s eyes that these teachers are going above and beyond to help their kids.”
Another credit union that offers classroom grants, TBA CU, Traverse City, Mich., learned that it received a much a better response for grant applications if it spent “face time” within the school district. It regularly attends principal and education association meetings, and also distributes information about the grant program to its general membership base, according to Marketing Director Christie Dompierre. The credit union allocates $5,000 each calendar year for classroom grants.
“Some schools that requested funds for video equipment, and a lot of those schools asked us to come back for interviews, which was kind of cute,” Dompierre said.
Dompierre said teachers are grateful for the relative ease of the grant process. “We’ve heard feedback about it being such a simple process,” she said. “Some grants require pages upon pages of documentation. Ours is pretty simple.”
Applicants are notified of a decision within two weeks, and are selected for funding based on how many students benefit from the request, how the request relates to classroom instruction and how funding will impact the future of students.
“We recently granted a request for a 3D printer from an [intermediate school district],” Dompiere said. “We were able provide something that’s going to help thousands of students.”