When Tiffany Kirk started working at a Minnesota credit union, her job was a blank slate. Kirk was hired as a financial education specialist for City–County Federal Credit Union in Minneapolis.
Initially, Kirk gravitated toward the credit union's two burgeoning financial literacy programs for youth: the "Savasaurus Club" for kids 12 and under and the "boom! (Budgeting Our Own Money) Program" for young adults ages 13-22. The offerings are designed to give participants a foundation for a lifetime of smart money management.
Once community interest and demand for more in–depth programs evolved, Kirk saw an opportunity for an important professional niche. "I love the teaching aspect of my job. The financial piece is not something I ever envisioned taking on, but there's such a high need for it," she says. "It's such a meaningful life skill, and that's what's motivating me to make this as large as it's grown."
Grow the program she did. Kirk has developed more than 20 financial lessons for people of all ages and diverse backgrounds, and she's reached more than 5,000 students through 300 lessons.
Her elementary school component entitled, "The Story of Money, Earning Money, and Money Uses," offers a basic understanding of identifying and using money. Students get a bag of play money including a dollar bill, coins and even pieces of cotton and linen – materials from which the bills are made. The students learn interesting details about everything from the physical origins of the money to the meaning of the imprinted codes on the bills.
Kirk's most popular lesson – "What Financial Products and Services Are Right For You?" – is geared toward a wide audience from middle–school age to adulthood. This piece highlights different financial institutions, available product offerings and skills for successful maintaining bank accounts.
A particularly memorable teaching experience for Kirk involved giving a class about basic financial services for homeless people at the Salvation Army. She says, "These are people who want to get back on their feet. And when they do become stable and self–sufficient, they'll know where to go."
Kirk identifies a universal lack of financial education among a broad stroke of the population regardless of people's backgrounds, but she also sees a strong desire to learn. "Lack of knowledge is the biggest common denominator. But people do want to know and to learn, but they don't know where to go," she says.
That’s what's driving Kirk and her outreach. She wants to make financial education available to anyone with an interest or need. She says, "It's such a useful skill. You see the light bulb go off. I think people feel good about themselves when they get it, and they'll carry it with them for the rest of their lives."