Timing, Training and Hard Work — the Pieces of Financial Education Success
Sometimes the pieces of the puzzle just fall into place.
That’s exactly what happened when the Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW) and BMO Harris Bank came together to talk about opportunities for financial education in Phoenix.
Valley of the Sun United Way believes that financial education can transform any life. How? A checking account makes it easy to pay vital monthly bills. Building savings enables families to respond to emergencies without sacrificing their quality of life. Developing a spending plan builds confidence and credit. And a solid education and career path can stabilize finances and light the path out of poverty. By joining with BMO Harris Bank, VSUW was able to put these beliefs into action.
“We see BMO Harris as a strong partner in our mutual goal of ensuring people understand their personal finances and are improving their financial stability,” says Charlie Boyce, Vice President of Community Impact for VSUW.
It takes a team
Guiding the formation of that partnership was Cherylyn Strong, Community Impact Manager for VSUW; volunteer Matt Miller, Senior Managing Director for BMO Private Bank; and Sodi Nichols, Community Outreach Specialist for BMO Harris Bank.
BMO Harris has an internal Financial Education Resource Center, designed to bring together enthusiastic employee volunteers and training resources from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The result is a small army of employees known as Financial Education Outreach Ambassadors, ready to work with organizations like Valley of the Sun United Way to teach adults and children the importance of managing their money.
Sodi Nichols invited trainers from the FDIC to come to Phoenix and conduct two training sessions — one for the 38 BMO Harris employee volunteers and one for representatives from 24 of VSUW’s partner agencies — designed to equip participants with the tools they need to hold their own financial education sessions.
Putting words into action
An education is only as good as the use one makes of it, so the VSUW-BMO Harris team decided to put their training to good use, zeroing in on another great community partner — Jobs for Arizona Graduates, a school-to-work transition program that helps young people stay in school and acquire the academic, personal, leadership and vocational skills they need to be successful after they graduate.
Jobs for Arizona Graduates steered them to Coronado High School, where they began a series of educational sessions with high school seniors. One of those students is Christina Luu, who is preparing to head off to college and says learning the plusses and minuses of credit was a particularly valuable part of her financial education training.
“I had no idea how vulnerable early college students could be to establishing bad credit habits,” she says. “Now I have some awareness of how to build credit and avoid credit pitfalls. I feel more comfortable talking about money in general. I think this was a really good experience and will help me in the future.”
Volunteer trainer Matt Miller couldn’t agree more, saying, “Jobs for Arizona Graduates focuses on developing competencies in career development, finding and getting a job, leadership, social skills and economic empowerment — it’s pretty impressive. We’re adding financial independence to an already extensive list of principles this program teaches.”
As a member of the board of directors of Valley of the Sun United Way, BMO Harris Regional President Steve Johnson is excited and optimistic about this partnership. “With all of these trainers out in the community, I see unlimited opportunities for growing the program,” he says. “We’re developing smart money managers at all age levels who will use those skills to build a solid financial foundation for a solid financial future. And that’s good for everyone.”