WHEN BLACKHAWK COMMUNITY CREDIT UNION decided to create an outreach program at Craig High School in Janesville, Wis., sophomore Matt VanRemortel’s marketing teacher thought he might make a good fit.
Three years later, VanRemortel is a seasoned credit union teller who, now attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, plans a career that combines finance and law.
Under the Blackhawk Community program, two or three students each year promote financial literacy to their peers from the credit union’s branch in the high-school cafeteria.
“We’re able to do basic teller functions at the school site, including accepting deposits and giving cash withdrawals of up to $100,” VanRemortel says.
While VanRemortel enjoys high-order credit union responsibilities and possesses financial savvy, he says it’s challenging to get high-school students interested in financial matters. To do so, Blackhawk Community created “Financial Fun Friday,” where students could spin a wheel that stopped at a general financial question. “If they answered it correctly, they won a chance to win a prize later on,” he explains.
The credit union also conducts presentations during business classes and hosts Homecoming Week events.
“While we talk about Blackhawk Community and what it can do, the major theme we stress is getting students to look at their purchasing patterns, and how spending and saving work,” VanRemortel says. “Being in high school has given me a great chance to observe what high schoolers need to know."
“People at that age can have expensive tastes in electronics, for example, and need to keep in touch with and pay attention to their purchases,” he continues. “Bad spending and tracking habits can snowball in college and later in adulthood.”
Blackhawk’s outreach extends to younger students, too. “For elementary students, our approach is that it’s great to reach younger kids because they are naturally curious,” VanRemortel says. “We keep our presentations fun and understandable, using iPad games to teach simple financial concepts such as, should I spend? Should I save? Should I donate?"
“The idea,” he adds, “is to create an early foundation of financial awareness that we can build on when they reach high school.”
The outreach has rubbed off on him, too.
“Our programs have helped me as much as they have anybody else,” VanRemortel says. “I’ve become much more sensible about how I manage my money.”