LANSING, Mich. – “It opens a door.” That’s how Jill Abendroth describes Earn It Back, which links Capital Area Michigan Works! with Capital Community Credit Union in an effort to help people who have bounced checks or failed to promptly pay NSF transactions re-establish their personal finances. Abendroth, CCCU community education coordinator, explains Earn It Back got started when Michigan Works! – a state agency providing a one-stop contact for job information, unemployment assistance, job readiness preparation and other services – approached several local credit unions. Doug Stites, CEO of Capital Area Michigan Works!, saw a need for financial education for people seeking jobs. The requirement appeared especially strong for Michigan Works! clients who were also applying for public assistance through the state’s Work First program. Stites observed these clients typically had no relationship with a financial institute. When they did find a job, they took their paychecks to a check cashing store, party store or similar outlet. Because CCCU has a community charter, it seemed in a good position to help. The credit union now leases office space at Michigan Works! After checking in at the credit union each morning, Abendroth heads for that office. Her days are spent either working with clients one-on-one or teaching financial classes. Those classes cover topics such as budgeting, handling credit and financial security. Recently the classes have been made available to the general public. Out of this arose a program called Earn It Back. When it came time to apply for CCCU membership and the applicant’s name was run through CheckSystems, they frequently were ineligible to open an account because of a history of bounced checks or failing to make good on NSF transactions. “I figured we needed to do something else,” Abendroth says. “I looked at a couple of other efforts and came up with my own program, Earn It Back. “They have to complete seven and a half hours of classroom sessions and pass a quiz. Then they receive a certificate that allows them to open an account at our credit union,” she says. The first participants will probably graduate within the next few weeks. Earn It Back is also open to people who aren’t involved with Michigan Works! Perhaps someone walks into CCCU to apply for membership and CheckSystems shows previous problems handling a checking account. All member service representatives have Earn It Back brochures which they provide whenever they deny an account. The applicant is encouraged to call Abendroth. However, the program isn’t open to people with an outstanding NSF. They must have paid it off. That’s a challenge for some people, Abendroth says. They may simply not have the means at this point to pay off the debt. First they need to find a job and make good on the check. Then they can return to Earn It Back. Abendroth indicates the cost of the program is actually quite modest, with CCCU providing her salary. It’s early yet, but during the coming year the backers will be assessing how well it works. “We’ll certainly look at how many people are entering the program, how many are completing it, and whether they’re passing the tests. At this point, I don’t know if it’s too much for them. Is there too much class time?,” Abendroth says. “We’ll kind of have to develop it as we got along. Everything is new. This entire year is probably going to be spent evaluating the whole thing and seeing how it’s working. I think success will be determined by whether people are getting through the program and graduate.” If they aren’t, Abendroth and others involved will try to determine why, then adjust the program. “That’s kind of what I’ve done with other classes, once I get in there and find out who’s involved,” she notes. -

ecour58516@aol.com