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Special Report: HealthCare First CU Helps Blind, Visually Impaired Students
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (9/11/13)--It's a story quite representative of the extra mile credit unions are willing to go to support their communities. For a second consecutive year, HealthCare First CU in Johnstown, Pa., has helped with a summer academy conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to teach financial education to blind or visually impaired students bound for college.
 
"HealthCare First CU developed the program, and it has been terrific for us," Shelley Faust-Jones, vocational rehabilitation specialist for special programs, Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, told News Now. "The partnership has been incredibly more than we imagined. Their financial expertise and enthusiasm to teach youth--especially youth with special needs--was overwhelming to us."
 
Just two summers ago the Pennsylvania agency asked the credit union to wade into the program, and the $57.5 million-asset credit union's started its assistance with the academy on a basic level--developing a program on how to use ATMs.
 
But after getting its feet wet, the credit union decided to plunge into the pool. Faust-Jones said HealthCare First "developed its own program for our blind and visually impaired youth. So they plan it and teach it, and execute the whole program. They've been terrific."
 
Knowing nothing about working with visually impaired students, HealthCare First FCU agreed when first contacted by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to help students learn how to use the credit union's ATM in the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown. The mission of the center is to offer quality individualized post-secondary education, which provides career opportunities and independent life skills--including vocational rehabilitation and disability services.
 
From there, the credit union took a new look at its "Plastic Money 101" class for student financial education and made changes to better serve blind and visually impaired students, Nancy Urban, marketing director at HealthCare First CU, told News Now.  "The department was shocked we would even attempt this," she added. 
 
This summer, the class was about 50% low-vision students and 50% totally blind students.  There were 19 students in the class this year and 21 last year. Urban and Paula Nihoff, president/CEO of HealthCare First CU, conducted the presentations.
 
When presenting PowerPoint presentations to visually impaired students, the credit union used big graphics with extremely large type, bright colors and large illustrations so the students would be better able to see. HealthCare First also converted its PowerPoint presentations into Braille for blind students, Urban said.
 
As part of the effort, laptops with large screens and big numbers and letters also were supplied by the department at the Andrews Center, as well as iPads that could read to the students, she added. The credit union covered important financial matters in class, including college costs, plastic money, differences between credit and debit, and budgeting and how to write a check.
 
Also, this year, the department and credit union set up an account for the students and provided them with their own debit card with $35 on it to use during the two-week academy. 
 
"The students used it at the mall and at McDonalds," Urban said. "We showed them how to use a register and to keep it up to date. Those that could see somewhat were able to go online and check their registers."  
 
The credit union's financial education component was part of a broader curriculum in the two-week summer academy in which the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry taught participants about computers, cooking, activities, getting on a bus, and how to pay at a fast-food restaurant and at stores.
 
"We were surprised by their great enthusiasm, insight and questions," Urban said. "These kids had great questions that even adults don't ask. One asked, 'If people overspend and get charged fees, how can people pay overdraft fees if they don't have money in the first place?'"
 
Urban and Nihoff were invited to the graduation ceremony for the summer academy. "It was the most moving thing I ever saw," Urban said. "The students in the program talked about how great it was making friends and learning to do things on their own. Their parents were there, and the students all sang a song."
 
This article is part of a News Now series of exclusive, special reports on credit unions' outreach efforts and innovative ideas. Fostering service excellence, removing barriers and raising awareness about the value credit unions provide their members and communities are the foundation for the Credit Union National Association's, state credit union leagues' and credit unions' Unite For Good campaign toward a vision in which Americans choose credit unions as their best financial provider.
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