Melinda Kaemingk, a compliance officer at Peoples Bank’s Barkley Village office in Bellingham, has a unique perspective on the Junior Achievement organization. In addition to having volunteered as a JA instructor, Melinda’s husband is a junior high school teacher who knows firsthand how challenging it can be to get students excited about topics like personal finance. "Financial literacy is an incredibly important life skill, but unfortunately many kids don’t learn about budgeting and saving until they’re in the real world and faced with a stack of bills,” says Melinda. “JA offers a unique curriculum that not only excites students, but enables them to experience real-life financial scenarios in the classroom with the help of trained volunteers.”
Melinda's enthusiasm for JA has motivated her to get other Peoples Bank employees involved, and there are now 15 to 20 bank employees who take advantage of the eight hours of community service time offered to them each year to volunteer with JA. According to Melinda, it's simply a natural fit. "The concepts of financial responsibility and of serving community are at the core of our bank — and we share those values closely with JA. We want everyone – from our customers to our employees – to have a good understanding of the basic principles of earning, saving, and spending."
"By helping students early on learn how to live within their means in a classroom setting, we can help them better understand the economic choices they will soon be facing in real life."
For decades, JA has been bringing courses in work-readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship to K-12 classrooms. For many students, participation in a JA program is their first introduction to real-world financial situations, such as budgeting and managing credit. Heather Vaughan, JA Whatcom / Island / Skagit regional director, understands that there are many reasons why young people miss out on this kind of instruction. "But," she says, "it needs to happen somewhere, and we're happy to be able to provide a network of fantastic volunteers like those from Peoples Bank to go into classrooms and share their real-world experience.”
Volunteers from Peoples Bank also appreciate the opportunity to help students learn about the financial realities they will face as adults. Alicia Kreiser, a real estate loan funder at Peoples Bank’s operations office in Barkley Village, volunteered at a JA Finance Park event in March. “When I worked as a bank teller, I often had to help customers understand that their bank accounts were overdrawn,” recalls Alicia. “By helping students early on learn how to live within their means in a classroom setting, we can help them better understand the economic choices they will soon be facing in real life. I was grateful to have the chance to share my knowledge, and I hope that I was able to turn on a light bulb for them."
With the support of organizations such as Peoples Bank, JA makes its curriculum available to local classrooms free of charge. Tracy Osborn, a senior training specialist at Peoples Bank’s corporate office, serves on the board of JA of Washington and coordinates several fundraising events. "I want to make sure Peoples Bank is fully involved with everything and anything that we can do for JA,” says Tracy. “As someone who is directly involved with the training of new employees, the skills fostered by the JA curriculum are of great value not only to future clients of the bank, but also to those who may become employees a few years down the road.”
One of the fundraising events Tracy leads is the JA Bowling Classic. The event in Bellingham raises thousands of dollars for JA, and Peoples Bank is well represented at the lanes each year. “It’s an event we look forward to because it allows us to enjoy some friendly competition with our friends and family while raising money for such an important organization.”
By encouraging students to start thinking early on about the educational and economic decisions they will make as they get older, Peoples Bank and JA are working together to foster the financial security and prosperity of the next generation. "JA programs are life-changing to students," says Heather, "but the goals of JA can only be realized with the help of like-minded institutions with similar values and goals who are willing to put their resources into the effort." Peoples Bank and its dedicated employee volunteers are committed to helping JA of Washington achieve those goals, one student at a time.