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SANTA ANA, Calif. – For Orange County’s Credit Union Community Education and Development Assistant Vice President Leticia Mata, promoting financial literacy has not only been lots of fun but it has helped the credit union reach out to more community residents and businesses. “We’re more than a financial institution, we’re a community resource and partner for education and development,” said Mata. “I’m having so much fun with this it really doesn’t feel like work, and what could be more rewarding than seeing those faces light up with understanding?” The program has been so successful that OCCU is offering free financial literacy courses to schools, public libraries, small businesses and community organizations. Classes are designed and taught through the credit union’s Community Advocates Reaching Everyone (C.A.R.E.) committee. “We’ve been offering financial literacy classes on an informal basis for many years. We realized that there was a definite need in our communities for even more of this type of training, especially for our youth, so we decided to take our efforts to the next level and develop a formal program with outreach efforts,” said OCCU President/CEO Judy McCartney. The free financial literacy workshops are customized to fit the needs of school classrooms, local businesses, organizations, and families. With two branches in Santa Ana where the population is about 70% Hispanic, classes are offered in both English and Spanish. “I was promoted to this position in January. We work in such a cooperative industry that there is so much great material out there and it is easy to network with other credit unions about what they’ve done, so it becomes a matter of mixing and matching as a base for our programs,” said Mata. “From there we encourage teachers, business owners, and community leaders to call us with their specific needs so we can then tailor the workshops to meet their audience, timeframes, and content preferences.” The series of four educational workshops for teens features these topics: Creating a Family Budget, Balancing Your Checkbook, Saving for Higher Education, and Understanding Credit. Mata says she views her role as more a facilitator than a “teacher”. “You have to make it activity driven. I’ve found that they don’t like the workbooks. They already go to school so they don’t need more school when they attend these workshops,” said Mata. “We get interactive and do our best to grab their attention. The first workshop is understanding money, so we created these $100 bills with our logo in the middle, hand them out, have attendees write their names on their bills and they show it off to each other. Then I walk around with the trashcan and tell them to toss it all. We then discuss how it made them feel and even though it was fake money they still wanted it back, so we explain that if they don’t plan and budget then that is what they are doing every day- throwing their money away.” From that point on Mata says the teens are all ears and are anxious to learn. Again with an emphasis on doing rather than listening, she separates the class of 20 into five “families” to create their own budgets and dream collages of their “wants”. The teens then make presentations about their collage and goals how they plan to get there and talk about the potential for higher incomes. The families are then randomly provided an assortment of professions ranging from doctors to laborers and fake paystubs including what’s taken out for taxes based on a family of four and are all required to get their needs met on a budget. “Parents sit in the back and are just grinning when they hear the teens are shocked at what they actually get to take home after taxes, but the great thing is that they are able to budget based on a $100,000 or $15,000 annual salary and determine just what is important and they have a better understanding of what their parents are going through,” said Mata. “It is amazing what can happen once they get it. The best example is one student who after our understanding credit class made a presentation about how his dad goes to payday lenders because in their ads they say `we’re the solution’ but what kind of solution has someone paying out more money? So he’s now telling his dad about other options and resources. What happens is that we now have all these credit union advocates running around.” The program culminates with each participant making a presentation to their parents summarizing what they’ve learned. Some write essays, some use PowerPoint, and some even use skits. The buzz about the program has even drawn the attention of local legislators. Recently Congresswoman Linda Sanchez asked OCCU to speak at area schools and before introducing Mata pulled out her OCCU debit card and said she was proud to be a member. “It was such an honor to be there with the superintendent of the school district and the city councilman and just to be asked to speak about the importance of financial literacy,” said Mata. “A lot of doors have opened up in the community for us because there is this name recognition and we are making a real difference in people’s lives.” Mata says for credit unions interested in providing such workshops they should gather their data, get to know their community and develop business partnerships. “You also need someone dedicated and enthusiastic- we started with no budget and created the job title but with our relationships and community contacts we have volunteers and companies willing to provide everything from lunch to prizes,” said Mata. “Try to also partner more with the community outreach people in your community rather than just focusing on the chamber. It is more fulfilling to help out the community. There is so much need for this and there is enough business for all of us to share and the more we help each other the better it is for the credit union movement as a whole. There are a lot of future entrepreneurs out there and shouldn’t credit unions be their trusted resource for financial information?” [email protected]

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