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Twenty-one-year-old Kelly Splonskowski had heard of credit unions but wasn’t motivated to become part of one until Members Cooperative Credit Union launched its Community Youth Foundation.The nonprofit foundation was created to provide educational scholarships, financial literacy education and financial support for local organizations and activities that make their communities stronger for youth.The College of St. Scholastica senior, who will graduate with honors this May, earning her bachelor’s in accounting and economics, with a minor in finance, is one of three foundation board members who are under the age of 21. The board consists of 11 members who span the ages of 17 and 74.“One of my classmates told me that the credit union was looking for students to be part of this foundation board that helps young people in the community,” said Splonskowski. “I was able to go to college because of multiple scholarships, so, by being a part of this board and its scholarship committee, I hope to do the same for other students like me.”Excited to make a difference in the lives of other college-bound students, Splonskowski said the giving back to the community also appealed to her.“To me, that community involvement shows that the credit union isn’t just worried about its bottom line but interested in helping future generations be informed and that they care about how the younger generation manages their finances because they recognize that we are the future,” said Splonskowski. “We don’t know what a credit union is, but that Members Cooperative formed this foundation and actually wants our opinions and real input from us, says a lot more about what they’re about than handing out some flyer about the history of credit unions and asking us to join.”That energy is why Members Cooperative CU Vice President/General Counsel Robbie Thompson said it was critical that there be a strong youth presence on the foundation’s board.“This is a youth-focused foundation, and these young people will be hugely influential in every aspect of this foundation,” said Thompson. “That is why it is in our bylaws that three of the board members must be under 21, and it is not just about them just listening in-they have full voting rights. In fact, one is secretary/treasurer, one is scholarship committee chair and the other who happens to be 17 years old chairs the grants committee.”First up for the foundation is to launch a fun scholarship challenge beyond the typical “what does a credit union mean to you” essay. He said the scholarship committee is brainstorming creative ideas for the next monthly foundation board meeting. Plans are also underway to enter the student loan market and provide direct student loans.“We just said here is the scholarship money. You decide how to make this scholarship competition unique,” said Thompson. “You can’t advise your way to youth, they have to be involved, and you have to go out there, work, rub shoulders with them, pay attention and find what they are looking for.”Recognizing the great need for financial literacy in the community, the foundation is just one part of the Duluth, Minn.-based credit union’s commitment to making deeper connections with local youth. In addition to having Financial Education Specialist Laura Battisti on staff for the past year and half to make inroads with area school districts, MCCU launched a new teen program, “BuckWise,” last month.The four-course program covers such topics as what financial services are right for you and start smart checking to growing your future. Ongoing courses will be held quarterly. Students completing the program will each receive a $50 deposit into their MCCU savings account and be entered in biannual drawings for an additional $200 deposit.With one of the over $277 million credit union’s strategic goals to lower the average age of its members, plans are also underway to reach out to younger members of the community through Facebook by taking a more personal, friendly approach to providing the information teens want while still having fun.“The solution to this alarming social issue is in our hands,” said Battisti, an experienced, licensed educator in the state of Minnesota who designed the BuckWise curriculum and teaches the series of classes. “Teens want to learn about financial management, and the majority of schools and parents aren’t teaching it, so this is an opportunity and a responsibility that will have a tangible impact on the communities we serve.”She added that the turnout of 22 teens for the first class has been encouraging and the feedback from parents saying they’re grateful for the help in teaching their kids to become more financially savvy shows MCCU is helping to meet a need in the community.–[email protected]

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