CU 4 Reality rewarded for educational achievements as 2016 Herb Wegner Memorial Award Winner

CU 4 Reality Recognized as Outstanding Program by Foundation

In recognition of its efforts to improve financial literacy and responsibility among future consumers by providing middle and high school students with essential financial education, the National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation) is pleased to announce CU 4 Reality from America’s Credit Union Museum as the recipient of the 2016 Herb Wegner Memorial Outstanding Program Award.

CU 4 Reality’s award will be one of four Herb Wegner Memorial Awards presented at a special dinner hosted by the Foundation at the Marriott Marquis Washington on February 22nd, 2016 in conjunction with the Credit Union National Association’s 2016 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC). Registration for dinner tickets and sponsorships will be available within the next month on the Foundation website.

“Reality Fairs have literally swept the nation and impacted tens of thousands of teenage lives at the most important time of their understanding around financial responsibilities,” said John Gregoire, Chair of the Foundation’s Wegner Awards Selection Committee and President of The ProCon Group. “We know the impact of financial literacy goes far beyond the number of attendees at a presentation and CU 4 Reality’s hands-on approach to learning has already shown tremendous success. We are very thankful to the America’s Credit Union Museum for their initiation and drive behind this impressive program.”

A New Approach to Financial Education

Financial literacy among America’s youth has been in dire straits for decades. The JumpStart Coalition’s most recent survey of high-school students found that only 48.3% of respondents were financially literate. In 2004, recognizing the potentially disastrous consequences of financial illiteracy, America’s Credit Union Museum undertook an initiative to improve financial education in America’s schools. The result, CU 4 Reality, offers middle and high school students a comprehensive yet accessible look at personal finance.

CU 4 Reality is distinguished by its unique approach to instruction. The program—offered through collaboration between credit unions and schools—combines traditional lessons with engaging activities based on real-world scenarios to communicate the importance of financial responsibility. The semester-long curriculum covers a range of issues including budgeting, tax management, credit and career exploration.

The event culminates in the CU 4 Reality Financial Literacy Fair. In this exciting event, students put their newfound financial knowledge to the test in a simulation of real-life personal finance. At the Fair, students get a job, calculate take-home pay, and visit booths staffed by volunteers to determine their monthly expenses.  They do this all the while attempting to manage their finances despite unexpected hardships and temptation. At the end of the simulation, students visit a booth manned by credit union volunteers to review their performance and learn strategies to increase revenue or reduce expenses.

Since launching the program—which has been offered to more than 87,000 students across nine states—communities have seen increases in financially stable citizens and decreased reliance on bankruptcy, public benefits and credit card debt. Currently co-sponsored by over 60 credit unions and leagues, CU 4 Reality promotes a positive image of credit unions as reputable, secure financial institutions, helping to grow trust and interest in the movement.

“Financial education cannot begin at too early an age—good money management, budgeting and wise use of credit cards are all important financial skills that every person needs to master,” says Thomas A. Champagne, VP of St. Mary’s Bank Credit Union. “The CU 4 Reality Financial Education Fair gives students a sense of what the ‘real world’ has to offer and shows them how to make wise and prudent financial decisions.”

The Product of Collaboration with Schools

CU 4 Reality’s success is largely attributable to how amenable it is to different teaching styles, needs and schedules. Rather than offering a single, uniform curriculum for all schools, the program’s lesson plans are developed collaboratively between teachers and credit unions. Credit union professionals work directly with teachers throughout the process to determine an appropriate lesson plan for their class, and credit union volunteers often end up teaching the students themselves.

America’s Credit Union Museum developed CU 4 Reality through their Financial Literacy Education Committee, and included the input of educators to ensure that the program would be workable for teachers. As the program has been tried and tested at schools over the years, the curriculum has continually been revised, updated and improved to reflect both changing times and feedback from educators.

CU 4 Reality strives to involve the entire school in the program, not just teachers. School administrators, parents and volunteers are welcomed to participate in the Financial Literacy Fair and other activities. This extensive outreach helps credit unions build relationships with schools, ensuring that generations of future students will continue to learn about the credit union difference.

“The CU 4 Reality program, with its adaptable curriculum, plays an essential role in our organization’s mission to promote thrift and financial education for today’s youth,” says John R. Young, President/CEO of New Hampshire FCU. “The program’s flexibility makes it popular among educators in several local schools where we bring a memorable financial literacy experience to our future members.”

Engaging Communities and Businesses in Financial Literacy

The collaborative aspect of CU 4 Reality extends beyond the classroom. To help the Financial Literacy Fair realize its full potential, representatives from local businesses and community organizations volunteer their time for the event.  Community participation often includes financial planners, insurance companies, travel agencies, chambers of commerce and local YMCAs.

The program’s reach is not only local. The Financial Literacy Fairs regularly draw national businesses such as Best Buy, Kohl’s, Planet Fitness and Comcast, who enhance the fair experience by adding their products or services to the simulation. With this diverse participation, students gain a more complete picture of the financial responsibilities they will face.

“We at the New Hampshire Banking Department think so highly of CU 4 Reality that we regularly send members of our staff to serve as volunteers during the events,” says Ingrid E. White, Deputy Bank Commissioner of the State of New Hampshire. “CU 4 Reality’s goal of improving young people’s financial picture and outlook is one that the Department wholly supports.”

Offering Financial Education Wherever There’s Need

CU 4 Reality is offered in several non-traditional settings. Girl Scout troops regularly employ the program to teach financial literacy to cadets, as do several associations for people with special needs. In New Hampshire, CU 4 Reality works with the Division of Children and Youth Services to offer the program to youths exiting the foster care system. CU 4 Reality has even been transported to Germany, where the program is offered to students on military bases.

Currently, CU 4 Reality is offered to 19,000 students on an annual basis; as the program continues to adapt, refine and improve itself, that number is bound to only increase.

“The feedback we received from students, volunteers and participating teachers in our CU 4 Reality Program has been phenomenal,” says Carol A. Southworth, Senior VP of Leominister Credit Union. “We have been a participant in the program in the Leominister/Fitchburg area since 2009, and in the next two years, we plan to expand the program into additional Wachusett and Leominister school districts.”


About the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards:

The awards are named in honor of the late Credit Union National Association CEO Herb Wegner, whose tireless dedication, innovative ideas and deeds truly revolutionized the ways that credit unions serve their communities.  The awards that bear Wegner’s name recognize his spirit of “innovative, creative, risk-taking” leadership. View past award recipients here.


More News