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Credit union banking on financial literacy

The PBS show “Biz Kid$” recently filmed at the Kitsap Credit Union’s Bremerton High School branch. The show’s production team visited the school and was so impressed with the credit union branch they decided to film a segment of an episode at the high school. - Courtesy Photo
The PBS show “Biz Kid$” recently filmed at the Kitsap Credit Union’s Bremerton High School branch. The show’s production team visited the school and was so impressed with the credit union branch they decided to film a segment of an episode at the high school.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Rebecca Charbonneau opened her first savings account with Kitsap Credit Union when she was 5 years old.

About 10 years later, her mother Sandi opened The Candy Shoppe in Port Orchard, which Rebecca now manages.

Cathy Brorson, Kitsap Credit Union outreach coordinator, said stories like Charbonneau’s give her “proud mama moments” because the credit union played a key role in Charbonneau’s success.

Kitsap Credit Union was recently recognized for its dedication to education when the Washington Credit Union League awarded the local credit union the 2007 Louise Herring award for Philosophy in Action.

It was given for best demonstrating the credit union philosophy of “People Helping People,” according to a news release.

“This credit union has a history of being very passionate and dedicated in making a difference in the lives of community members,” said Ron Rogerson, Kitsap Credit Union senior vice president of marketing. “We take that philosophy, which is a credit union philosophy, to heart.”

Through Kitsap Credit Union’s educational outreach program, the credit union gave thousands of dollars, provided 683 volunteer hours of classroom instruction and reached 22,226 individuals with financial literacy education.

“In every walk of life there’s a need for this type of education,” Brorson said, “and we’re here to provide it.”

Kitsap Credit Union offers a range of educational programs, including those tailored for school-aged children, military men and women and senior citizens.

Credit union employees, led by Brorson, teach the classes and educate the people of Kitsap County on how to make good financial decisions.

“We’re not really promoting our products and services, but we’re promoting education,” Rogerson said. “This credit union has more than 300 employees, and we’re all on the same wavelength.”

Kitsap Credit Union opened a branch inside Bremerton High School in 2001 and now South Kitsap High School has a credit union branch as well.

The school branches are staffed with students, a faculty member and a Kitsap Credit Union employee.

North Kitsap High School will have a credit union inside their school come 2009.

Before opening branches in high schools, Brorson and credit union employees teach the students good financial skills. Brorson said people as young as 13 can open accounts at Kitsap Credit Union, provided an adult signs for the account as well.

Presently, more than 50 percent of Bremerton High School students and 37 percent of South Kitsap High School students are Kitsap Credit Union members.

“Hopefully these kids that open accounts through this process will stay with us,” Rogerson said.

The PBS television show “Biz Kid$” visited Bremerton High School’s credit union branch and were so pleased with what they saw, they decided to film a segment of an upcoming show at the school.

“Biz Kid$” is a show about how young people can make and manage money. A few local faces also appeared on the PBS show, including Charbonneau and Bremerton High School seniors Dominica and Regina Ogazi, who run a bakery.

“Anybody can be a biz kid, and anybody can be successful,” Brorson said.

Kitsap Credit Union also awards scholarship money to deserving local students. It awarded $15,000 in scholarships to six area students this year.

Rogerson said the credit union received about 70 applications for the scholarships this year.

“That program is gaining momentum really quickly,” he said.

Rogerson said the credit union’s educational outreach programs really took off around 2000, the year Brorson joined the company.

Since then, Kitsap Credit Union has given more than 500 presentations to more than 12,000 young people.

“Outside of the school programs that we have, we extend to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, home-schooling groups ...,” Brorson said.

Rogerson said since receiving the Louise Herring award, Kitsap Credit Union officials hope other credit unions will benefit from their educational outreach programs.

“We don’t enter an awards competition unless we think other credit unions can learn something or benefit,” Rogerson said. “We just don’t do it unless there is something that we think others can benefit from.”

Brorson said she hopes to continue expanding the credit union’s educational services, but receiving the Louise Herring award shows that even state officials are taking notice of their dedication to education.

“We would continue doing this even if there was no award,” she said, “but this is just icing on the cake.”

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