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Tune into Louisiana Public Broadcasting and you might catch Pelican State Credit Union Credit Counselor Kimberly Gaines doing what credit unions do best: improving members’ financial well-being.
Gaines represents the $677 million asset Baton Rouge, La., credit union on “Opportunity Knock$,” a new PBS reality show that follows six families as they work with financial experts and local credit unions to take control of their finances.
During the 13-week show, which premiered May 7 in Louisiana and is available for free on opportunityknocks.net, Gaines works with Charles and Tiffany White, a Lake Charles, La., couple seeking to improve their financial well-being. Simultaneously, the credit union showcases its mission in the public eye in all the markets the show was filmed in.
“We don’t toot our own horns enough,” says Jessica Sharon, assistant vice president of financial outreach at Pelican State. “This TV show is a huge opportunity, not just for the families, but for the credit union industry to say, ‘This is who we are. This is our mission. This is our purpose.’ I hope this shines a light on the credit union industry and how we're living our principles.”
Serving the Whites meant working with them to improve their credit, create a reasonable budget, and save money by refinancing their loans with Pelican State.
“They were amazing to work with,” Sharon says. “They are so full of light and love, such wonderful people. We say this all the time, ‘Bad things happen to good people.’ It's our job to help sort that out and find a way to improve the situation. The Whites did not ask for any of the things that happened to them—family loss, hurricanes, being taken advantage of in their living situation. They’ve been rocks in their community, church, and family, so it was so exciting to help.”
The show follows the Whites as they work alongside Gaines and Patrice Washington, a speaker and bestselling author. Washington joins HerMoney CEO/co-founder Jean Chatzky and financial expert Louis Barajas as the show’s celebrity coaches, complementing the local credit unions’ financial capabilities.
It’s a relationship that’s been two years in the making. Sharon says CU Strategic Planning founder Jamie Strayer, who produced “Opportunity Knock$," was the mastermind behind Pelican State’s involvement.
Strayer reached out to the credit union, in part because of its community development financial institution (CDFI) certification, to see if there was interest. Sharon thought it was a perfect fit, allowing Pelican State to serve a family while showcasing the credit union’s financial wellness efforts.
“Individuals who are living in poverty are making the same decisions over and over again because they don't have other information or opportunities,” Sharon says. “We often meet with members who are using payday loans or going to a finance company. Why? Because that's what was in their neighborhood, what’s up the street, or what their parents use. We've got to help individuals realize what's out there and what's possible for them.”
Pelican State’s seven certified credit counselors get to the root of members’ financial struggles, then offer them steps to put the pieces together. The process begins with counselors getting information about the member. They then look at the members’ budget and ask them to print out a statement and get honest about their spending. Finally, they discuss a personalized plan for the future.
“One of the most important things we do is reserve judgment,” Sharon says. “We're not here to tell people not to get their hair done, shop on Amazon, or go out. We're not here to say what's right or wrong. We're here to say, ‘Here are your priorities. Let me help you reach that goal.’”
Pelican State has been dishing out financial wellness tips on social media by creating short videos. “Opportunity Knock$” viewers can get similar information by using The Opportunity Finder, which is connected to the show and directs visitors to credit unions, nonprofits, and resources that can aid people who are struggling on their own.
Community members have already taken notice. Immediately after the show’s premiere, Pelican State began hearing feedback from people who watched and were intrigued by the concept of following the path toward financial well-being.
“We're getting a lot of replies like, ‘Hey guys, we got to see the show. It looks so cool.’ It’s fun for us to be featured in this program and share what we do,” says Sharon, who hopes viewers see credit unions as a resource that will help improve their financial situation and standard of living. “Hopefully it brings a lot of awareness to the credit union movement. We have more proof to say, ‘Look what we do.’”