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ACUC: CUs give 'Bite of Reality' to teach financial lessons
SAN FRANCISCO (7/1/14)--While the consequences may have been fake, the financial decision-making lessons learned by students at the "Bite of Reality" money fair, held on Day 1 of the Credit Union National Association's 2014 America's Credit Union Conference (ACUC) here, were very real.
 
As a part of attending CUNA's America's Credit Union Conference, Maria LaVelle, CEO, Westmoreland FCU, Greensburg, Pa., volunteered for Monday's "Bite of Reality" financial simulation.
The event was held in conjunction with the conference as a way to continue a credit union tradition of giving back to a community that hosts a credit union event.  As explained by Amy Nigrelli, CUNA vice president of marketing and communications, CUNA and credit unions believe it is important to put together a give-back event like this.
 
"These people, these CUNA, league and credit union volunteers, could have gone on wine tours or other events throughout San Francisco, but they chose to come here and volunteer in this youth financial education effort," Nigrelli said. "It truly reflects the credit union philosophy of 'people helping people.'"
 
At the money fair, several dozen high school students from San Francisco were handed new identities--complete with jobs, salaries and family situations--and asked to make purchases on the essentials and not-so essentials based on their respective financial situations.
 
Volunteers--all credit union professionals attending the conference--ran the "stores," and as salespeople, they encouraged the students to buy lavishly, with the hope that at the end of their shopping sprees they would receive a little "Bite of Reality," and learn a tough but valuable lesson.
 
"You learn when you fail," said Tena Lozano, executive director of the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation, who spearheaded the event in collaboration with CUNA and the National Credit Union Foundation. "The best place to learn when you fail is when the money isn't real. Hopefully these lessons will sink in."
 
Desmond, a San Francisco high school student, was frugal when he made his purchases during Monday's "Bite of Reality" financial simulation at CUNA's America's Credit Union Conference. (CUNA photos)
When the students arrived, Lozano gave them a crash course on writing a check, which was their only form of payment, and then sent them off to buy cars, housing, groceries and clothing, among other goods.
 
Some splurged on boats, big houses and nice furniture, while others chose a thriftier route. "I didn't get the Ferrari," Desmond, a student participating in the event, told News Now . "Not in the budget."
 
After shopping, the students were instructed to visit the final booth, a mock credit union, where they would assess the damage and have the ability to sell back products they couldn't afford. Those who spent without regard received a dose of reality, while those like Desmond learned they might have the right idea in terms of managing finances.
 
"When it's your own money, can you afford that new iPhone?" posed Maria LaVelle, CEO, Westmoreland FCU, Greensburg, Pa., with $67 million in assets. LaVelle was one of the volunteers at the event. "I think it's about determining what a need is vs. what a want is."
 
Added Diana Kot, vice president of member development/advocacy, for SchoolsFirst FCU, Santa Ana, Calif., with $10.3 billion in assets:  "The results are amazing when you watch the kids, what they learn, the hands-on reality. The kids walk away with a much greater appreciation of what their parents have to do on a day-to-day basis; it's an eye opener for them."
 
But the students aren't the only ones who learned something Monday.  Volunteers, many of whom are involved in the credit union community, got a glimpse of the financial abilities of younger generations.
 
Judy Ensweiler, wife of Cornerstone Credit Union League CEO Dick Ensweiler, said she was surprised that so many kids didn't know how to write a check, taking that and many other "Ah ha!" moments away from the event.
 
Meanwhile, organizers of the event were pleased with the turnout, both by the students and by the credit union volunteers who participated.

Be sure to visit News Now and Credit Union Magazine frequently this week to keep up with all the ACUC action in San Francisco. You can also follow ACUC on Twitter using the handles and hashtag below:
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