In Maine, credit unions are reaching out to people who are not typically in the position to learn how to manage their finances: the incarcerated.
The York County Chapter of Credit Unions began facilitating annual outreach for the prison population in 2014, and since 2017 has held Financial Fitness Fairs in the spring and the fall, says Jake Holmes, financial literacy outreach coordinator for the Maine Credit Union League.
Roughly 100 inmates participate at each event.
Maine’s credit unions began hosting the fairs in 2004, says Holmes. “Since its inception, nearly 61,000 participants have completed our money management experience, including 7,726 participants last year alone,” he says.
The fairs at the Maine Correctional Center are available to male and female inmates who are scheduled to re-enter society in about a year.
“Because many inmates have low credit scores and are unfamiliar with budgeting, these fairs are meaningful and timely,” Holmes says.
Each visit requires jumping through some minor hurdles. “All volunteers are required to complete a background check prior to the event, and all of the fair’s support materials must be checked with security screens,” Holmes says. “In addition, volunteers cannot bring in their keys or a cell phone.”
Although most of the efforts in educating the prison population have taken place at the Maine Correctional Center, the league plans to bring the fairs to other minimum security prisons.
“If you have the staff and volunteer power, I’d strongly encourage credit unions to host an event,” Holmes says. “I’m confident you will find it to be rewarding for you and the participants. If a fair can provide the financial education that will change one person’s life, it’s all worth it. This is ‘people helping people’ at its core.”