National Credit Union Youth Week: Preparing the Next Generation for Financial Success

Editor’s Note:Credit unions across the country will celebrate National Credit Union Youth Week next week, paving the path to life-long credit union membership by encouraging kids to set up savings accounts, learn how to manage money and be more financially literate.

Financial literacy is also at the heart of what Junior Achievement does every day. And so on the eve of Youth Week, which runs April 20-26, Anthem asked Amy Spencer, the development manager for JA of Oregon & SW Washington, to talk about the current state of financial education – and the programs available now to help kids achieve a better financial future.

By Amy Spencer

Armed with an iPad and a custom app, students move through JA Finance Park by visiting 16 business kiosks, each representing a line item on a typical family budget.

April is National Financial Literacy Month, and with the recent economic crisis not too far in our rear-view mirrors, financial literacy has become a topic of national conversation.

In 2012, Oregon was one of 44 states to adopt the Common Core Standards for education, which makes financial literacy education a requirement for students. This could not have come at a better time. Instilling good financial habits at a young age is crucial to ensuring that the next generation is prepared to tackle the challenges of adulthood.

In a recent National Financial Capability Study conducted by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, Oregon adults scored dismally in several key measures of financial capability. More than half of Oregonians (64 percent) lack a “rainy day” fund to cover expenses for three months in case of emergencies such as sickness, job loss or economic downturn. This can have a spiraling effect, as bad habits tend to be passed from one generation to the next.

When we look at the money habits of teens specifically, we find the trend continues. A 2014 survey of more than 1,200 youths showed that fewer teens are sure about their ability to support themselves financially in the future than in the past. The study, sponsored by Junior Achievement and the Allstate Foundation, also showed that more than three-quarters of teen boys and two-thirds of teen girls surveyed do not keep track of their money.

Junior Achievement of Oregon & SW Washington (JA), an affiliate of JA USA, is a nonprofit organization working to change all of that by offering financial literacy programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Since 1950, JA has partnered with local businesses and community volunteers to bring the concepts of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy to life for students, and give them opportunities for hands-on learning. During this school year, more than 41,000 students in more than 1,500 classrooms across Oregon and Southwest Washington will participate in JA programs.

The newest initiative by the organization, JA Finance Park, gives students the opportunity to learn first-hand how to manage a family budget. Since its launch in spring 2013, the program – which is funded in part by a grant from the Northwest Credit Union Foundation — has reached more than 4,000 middle and high school students. To ensure that JA Finance Park reaches as many students as possible, the program was designed to be mobile, traveling to communities around the state, to locations both urban and rural.

Following more than 12 hours of in-class curriculum related to personal finance, students participate in a one-day simulation, which allows them to put into practice the skills they’ve learned. Armed with an iPad and a custom app, students move through JA Finance Park by visiting 16 business kiosks, each representing a line item on a typical family budget. Most of the kiosks in the exhibit are sponsored by local businesses the students would encounter in the real world – KinderCare for childcare, Columbia Sportswear for clothing and Fred Meyer for groceries, for example. At The Credit Union, sponsored by the Northwest Credit Union Association, students learn about family savings.

Upon arrival, students are assigned a random “life scenario,” complete with a career, a salary and a family. Using the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom, students complete the task of researching choices and costs associated with various products and services, while ultimately building a balanced family budget.

“We have long regarded financial literacy as an essential skill to succeed in life,” says John Hancock, president of JA of Oregon and SW Washington. “JA Finance Park elevates our ability to address this topic and provides a turnkey solution for schools that are looking for a fun, engaging and effective program for students.”

Beyond the direct programs offered to students, JA has begun using an innovative new tool to reach a broader audience. “The Money Jar” is an online podcast about kids, families and money. New episodes of the show are released every other Thursday, featuring guests from across the country who provide their unique perspectives and expertise on a variety of topics.

Since the show’s launch in the fall of 2013, more than 40 episodes have been produced, tackling subjects such as How to Save 25K by the Time You’re 25, The Basics of Banking, Establishing Credit, and many others. The goal of the show is be a platform for parents to begin those challenging conversations with their kids about money. The podcast started as a JA project in Oregon, and now enjoys a national following. JA offices around the country are using “The Money Jar” as a tool to engage in conversations with their communities. The show is also available for free to banks, credit unions and organizations such as the Northwest Credit Union Association to provide as a resource to consumers. 

Junior Achievement is working hard to ensure young people in our community have the skills they need to succeed. By partnering with teachers, businesses and organizations like the NWCUA and the NWCUF, the next generation of Northwesterners will have a better chance at a financially secure future.

Amy Spencer is the development manager-communications for Junior Achievement of Oregon & SW Washington. For more information about the organization’s programs, visit or contact Spencer at 971.255.4946 or

Questions about this story? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216,


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