The Pennsylvania Credit Union Foundation took financial reality fairs to new territory recently when it hosted an event for people re-entering society from the state’s correctional system.
The foundation modeled the event after the popular financial reality fair program credit unions host for middle schools, high schools, and community colleges.
The Harrisburg fair—a true collaborative effort that included the foundation, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, several state departments, local agencies, and area credit unions—was tailored to the needs of former inmates preparing to leave the Harrisburg Community Corrections Center (HCCC). Nearly 60 HCCC residents participated.
Participating credit unions included:
The fairs are hands-on learning programs designed to give attendees a real-life experience in money management and budgeting. Attendees begin the fair with a salary and credit score, and sometimes debt. Then they must build a balanced budget that supports housing, transportation, food, and other expenses.
The foundation modified the event to fit a reentrant’s lifestyle.
Through her contacts with the state, Christina Mihalik, Pennsylvania Credit Union Association vice president of government relations, played an instrumental role in organizing the event, along with foundation Executive Director Kathleen Fey.
“It started as a dialogue with the Department of Corrections,” Mihalik says. “With credit unions’ focus on education, we were a natural fit to modify this template to incorporate challenges and opportunities this population might encounter. It was such a success. Everyone learned something that day.”
Participating credit unions’ enthusiasm helped make the day a success. “It was a situation that could have created some discomfort, but everyone involved went out of their way to make the reentrants feel welcome and help them be successful in the next phase of their lives,” Fey says.
When other credit unions in the state heard about the program, they reached out to the foundation about holding similar events in their areas, according to Fey. In fact, on Oct. 14 the foundation and its member credit unions will host five additional financial reality fairs for reentrants at five locations throughout the state.
“A flexibility in the template allows us to adapt it to different audiences,” Mihalik says. “But just as important, bringing these fairs to different audiences really creates awareness with lawmakers, public officials, and communities. It reinforces the role credit unions play in those communities and how unique we are in the services we provide.”