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APPLETON, Wis. – Credit unions, banks, government agencies, the local public school district, businesses and the public came together here recently for one reason: to satisfy consumers’ hunger for financial education. The first Fox Cities Money Conference, held Nov. 8 at Fox Valley Technical College, was a partnership involving a financial education advisory team of local leaders, the nonprofit organization Asset Builders of America, and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Community First Credit Union, a sponsor, saw it as part of its commitment to financial education, “a way to service our members. If they are successful, we’re successful,” said Chip Coenen, vice president of business development and community relations for Community First. “What we had heard from people during the conference was that they were starved for this kind of broadbased, practical information.” Nearly 250 youngsters, teens, adults and seniors attended the all-day event, attracted to sessions as diverse as “Entrepreneurship for Kids,” “How to Start and Manage an Investment Club,” “From Kicking the Tires to Signing the Check – How to Buy a Car,” and “How to Make the Most of Your Employer Benefits.” Matthew Busse, 17, of Appleton attended with some members of his personal financial management course at Appleton North High School. “Besides the extra credit points,” he said, he was looking forward to the “good economic information that would be available. I will be able to use it in the future for buying cars, homes, getting a credit card.” Alicia and Manuel Vivas of Menasha were interested in learning “how to better invest our money, to plan a future for our kids and ourselves and how to plan for retirement.” Manuel had heard about the program through FVTC where he was enrolled. “We just moved here from California two years ago,” said Alicia, “so we are not very familiar with how to invest money or anything here in Wisconsin. We think it will help us.” Joe and Peggy Mueller of Sherwood and their son Dyne and daughter Meghan, who was a volunteer guide, also were there. “It’s something new in the area,” said Joe, “and I think a big benefit for us was bringing our two youngest children, ages 15 and 18, to learn a lot of things that you maybe forgot to expose them to in life. You don’t generally talk about money, what to watch for.” “We’re also interested in looking at something for retirement in the future,” said Peggy, “learning what our options are.” For Dyne, the session he was particularly interested in was about credit cards. “In a couple of years, I’ll be able to get one and I want to know how to handle it and everything.” Ed Culhane and his son David, 15, of Appleton also were attending. “David is 15 and it’s very important that he gets this way of looking at money while he is still young. I really didn’t starting thinking about it until I was older and after I paid way too much money in interest and messed up my credit. I want David to have a better start than I did.” “Understanding and knowing how to manage your money is the key to financial stability today,” said Lorrie Heinemann, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. “This conference is a great investment because it offers high quality, impartial financial education for youth as well as adults.” The conference also offered sessions in the Spanish and Hmong languages. One keynote speaker Dr. John Whitcomb, medical director of Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Elm Grove, Wis., and author of The Sink or Swim Money Program, shared personal insights on teaching “family values” about money. Whitcomb, who has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America, used his family’s experiences with spending and saving as the basis for his book, “Capitate Your Kids,” which teaches how to become a “fiscally fit” family. “If you’ve only given your kids disposable income, how do they learn to manage their money?” he asked the audience. He said entire families have to review the way they deal with money and what that teaches children. He gave the example that as soccer parents, they often used to pay $2 for each bottle of pop at a game. He said that taught their kids that it was OK to spend $10 on soda for five people. In re-examining that, they decided that they could either bring Kool-Aid they had made at home or pick up a 24-can carton of pop for the same price to be used at several games. From bringing a sack lunch to school or work each day to having kids work to pay for special items they wanted, there are ways to save, he told the audience. The point, he said, was for a family not to waste its money but to spend it on what it valued. Community First’s Coenen called the conference very successful and very satisfying. “The whole conference was an outflow of a committee of community members and an extension of what Community First is doing,” said Coenen, noting that the credit union is involved with a high school financial literacy program, now required of students in the Appleton School District, and has credit union branches in local schools. “I was also very happy with the diversity of the event,” said Catherine Tierney, president/CEO of Community First. “We served a broad spectrum of people from different ethnic backgrounds, ages, and income levels. To hear people talk about how much they need this type of information, and how happy they were to `find’ it was very gratifying! We’re looking forward to growing the Money Conference and to providing this type of programming for our membership and the community on a regular basis.” Coenen said the local financial literacy advisory committee had been considering a financial seminar at the same time Asset Builders was looking for another conference site. The local committee had ideas and local resources it wanted included and Asset Builders had a proven template, he said. Coordinating the effort took many months of work but the result was impressive. Not only credit unions but banks and other organizations stepped up to the plate, said Coenen. Besides Community First, conference planning committee members included Citizens First Credit Union and the Appleton Area School District. Among conference sponsors were Community First, Fox Communities, Miller Electric, Lakeview and Badger Globe credit unions. Asset Builders this year also presented its financial conferences in Milwaukee, Madison and in the Beloit/Janesville area. Richard Entenmann, president of Asset Builders, said one community is added each year to its schedule of financial education projects targeted at low- and moderate-income people.

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