August 30, 2012

Merchants Bank Moneysmart Program Teaches Much More Than Finance

Posted in Donor Spotlight, Independence Place, New Horizons Educational Program, Residential, Volunteer Spotlight tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:49 pm by Lund

Story and Photos by Cat Cutillo/Lund
*Client name has been changed to protect anonymity

Bad credit is a problem many people face, but for clients at Lund financial problems are often rooted in some painful memories.

“It could have been tied to criminal activity, substance abuse or a really controlling relationship,” says Tammy Santamore, Lund’s Learning Together Coordinator.

Santamore explains a client’s poor credit can also be the result of a parent or partner ruthlessly putting a phone or utility bill in the client’s name without consent.

“[In some cases] they never even really started out with good credit because when they were 12 somebody put a phone bill in their name and they never even knew about it,” says Santamore.

(l to r) Ben Irish, Lund’s New Horizons Education Program Teacher, Tammy Santamore, Lund’s Learning Together Coordinator, Maryann Russell, Merchants Bank Community Banking Manager, Nate Mackee, Merchants Bank Personal Banker, Christine Auriemma, Merchants Bank Regional Banking Manager

But Merchants Bank Moneysmart Program through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is trying to change this. The statewide program, which consists of 10-week rotations, recruits Merchants Bank employees to teach people how to achieve financial success. The classes taught at Lund are small and tailored to fit the personal financial barriers of each client.

“We want to be able to empower them because their success is our success,” says Christine Auriemma, Regional Banking Manager at Merchants Bank.

Nate Mackee, Merchants Bank Personal Banker, uses a visual game board to teach a Moneysmart class at Lund.

And the Bank’s dedication has even extended outside the classroom, recently donating $500 to Lund’s Independence Place, donating two-dozen supply-filled backpacks to get Lund students off on the right foot this year and even helping one Lund client achieve housing in a pinch.

Donna* was a resident of Independence Place but had given notice to move into a different housing facility, which allowed residents with poor credit to move in on the condition that they complete a two-part class module. Donna missed the first class and was facing homelessness with her 18 month-old-son because her Independence Place apartment had already been rented.  Santamore was told if Donna found an alternative financial educator to replace the two-part class module she’d missed, she would be cleared for housing. Merchants Bank quickly stepped up to the plate and within days had cleared Donna.

“It was such a no-brainer for us because it’s the right thing to do and it’s an easy thing for us to do,” said Maryann Russell, Community Banking Manager at Merchants Bank.

Donna says her experience with the Bank has left a lasting impression.

“Merchants Bank was very helpful. They gave me information about credit in order for me to get my housing. The woman that helped me was nice and patient,” says Donna.

“She and her son are now in permanent affordable housing because [Merchants Bank] supported her in doing that credit repair and credit module. It’s huge for her family. It’s a couple of hours for [the Bank] but it’s huge for Donna and her family forever,” explains Santamore.

And of all the valuable information the classes have taught, Santamore believes perhaps the greatest lesson for Lund clients has been learning that they’re not alone and there is a way out from under their financial struggles.

“They don’t have to shove it down and pretend that it’s not fixable. They really can get support from this bank, from staff, from other people in the community to address this issue, get jobs, get housing and move forward,” says Santamore.

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