Education First Federal Credit Union We’re Paying It Forward
By Donna Adinolfe
BACKGROUND: Giving back to the community is what credit unions are all about, and Education First Federal Credit Union, in Beaumont, TX, is taking it to another level.
The CU, which was founded by teachers, is celebrating its roots with its annual We’re Paying It Forward (WPIF) program, supporting local education while allowing Education First members to direct a portion of their own dollars back into the communities where they live and work.
As the program grows in popularity each year, donations to area schools in Southeast Texas have more than tripled from $13,000 in 2014 to $50,000 in 2020. To date, donations have totaled $200,000 in unrestricted funds to help supplement school budgets and allow local schools to direct the funds where they are most needed.
WHAT THEY DID: Through the We’re Paying It Forward program, when an Education First member takes out a loan, the CU donates a portion of that loan amount back to the school of that member’s choice.
RESULTS: The initial distribution in 2014 was made by the CEO and community relations representative, who visited the schools to personally present the checks to principals, according to Carolyn Ridout, VP of marketing for Education First FCU.
“It was a humble and heartfelt donation, and a way for Education First to provide support to the community through education. But, because there was not any education to the recipients about the program, there was also a lot of confusion,” Ridout said.
So, in 2015, they held a luncheon at a local restaurant to present school officials with $12,000 in donations. The event gave the CU the opportunity to educate attendees about the history of Education First and how it supports education through college scholarships, youth savings accounts and zero-interest back-to-school loans for teachers to prepare their classrooms.
This year, Education First Federal Credit Union distributed checks totaling over $50,000 to 136 local schools in Southeast Texas at its fifth annual luncheon held at The Event Centre in Beaumont.
“Over the last five years, the program has tripled the growth and created a buzz in the education and local community,” Ridout said. “We have moved our luncheon to an events center that is better able to accommodate our growing crowd; produced a video that is shown at the luncheon highlighting the program and what schools are doing with their donations.”
Schools have used the funds to create a robotics lab and an honors den; fund incentive programs like Employee of the Month and Student of the Week; and provide school supplies or a jacket or shoes for students who otherwise would go without them.
“This is just one way we can give back to the communities we serve,” said president and CEO of Education First, Keith Brenek. “It’s a great way for us to provide some support to the schools and students in our field of membership, and this program creates a positive impact with our members.”
They also conduct a robust marketing campaign twice a year that includes TV, billboards, digital, website, in-branch, website, newsletter and email.
LESSONS LEARNED: “At its core, the WPIF program really sets us apart from the other credit unions in our area by providing a unique opportunity for us to not only celebrate our roots (we are a credit union founded by teachers), but also gets our members personally involved by directing the donations to the school of their choice,” Ridout said. “All of these things ultimately improve our community, and it feels good for the member to get to be a part of that.”
She added, “In a nutshell, I think everything we do—WPIF and beyond—are excellent examples of exactly what credit unions were created to do: help people. And, that is something we do every day through financial education, personalized financial solutions, and through giving back to our community.