As a person

UPDATE: The Northwest Credit Union Foundation has generously approved a grant request to fund the pilot program for People Providing Hope! Woohoo!

As a NTCUE finalist, I've found myself scrutinizing every itsy bitsy detail of this project. Does that work? Would this work? How does that benefit credit unions? How does this benefit the community? And while I don’t have to stretch far in surmising that financial education helps people live better lives, it's clear to me that we must maintain a presence in the minds of legislators, schools, and other programs by greatly expanding our efforts.

Take for example a 2015 National Financial Capability Study (NFCS) report that shows participants in general financial education perform better on financial literacy exercises than those who did not participate. That may seem obvious but just wait.

The Council for Economic Education’s 2016 Survey of States indicates that after implementation of financial education in grades K-12 in three states (Georgia, Idaho, and Texas), the average credit scores of young adults improved by 8% collectively.

Now imagine the disadvantages that an at-risk child faces and the relation between those disadvantages and costs to our community. Ongoing homelessness, institutionalization, low productivity in the workforce and school dropouts are just a few challenges we see. Mark Cohen, Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University, explains that the “costs associated with dropping out of school include loss of wages and productivity, loss of fringe benefits, and non-market losses i.e. education benefits individuals through improved social connections and improves communities through technology development and other types of knowledge information.”

A report titled The Economic Benefits of Helping Homeless Youth by Dr. Kristina Smock examines the payback of delivering assistance programs to disaffected youth. “Youth homelessness costs the general public millions of dollars each year as a result of homeless youth cycling in and out of the juvenile justice system,” she says,  “...incarceration, emergency room medical care, foster care placement and school system costs are associated with delayed learning and inter-school movement.” If appropriate support is applied, however, the costs change. These youth are given hope. Smock suggests they are now “resilient and able to make lasting changes… are able to find permanent homes… are able to get and keep good jobs… [and] choose and maintain health and well-being.”

Students at Youth Progress receive after-class math help from a volunteer.

Students at Youth Progress receive after-class math help from a volunteer.

Ok, so what does this mean?

It means that it doesn’t take much to improve our society. It means that helping others goes a long way. It means we have the special gift of picturing our at-risk youth with and without financial literacy. It means that beyond the statistics and quotes and numbers and the hypotheses lies the most important element; humanity.

I’ve developed and sent out financial questionnaires to select participants from The Portland Kitchen, Youth Progress and Clackamas Service Center to gain perspective on the youth I am working with. I've applied for grants and created curricula to empower my ideas. I’ve reviewed surveys and reports and have sought assistance from credit union folk, economists, professors and others.

As a credit union advocate, I believe in financial education, but I have to remind myself that regardless of anything, there are children's lives at stake each and every day.

So as a person, it’s the kids that drive me; the looks on their faces and the changes for good that I see, which remind me without question why I believe so deeply in what I am doing.

Michael Murdoch