SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—Lots of credit unions have student-run branches, but only Freedom CU has a student-built branch.
When Freedom opened its facility inside the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy here virtually all of the work to build the interior of the 600-square-foot office was performed by students.
CEO Barry Crosby said Freedom felt the credit union’s first high school location should be built by students, seeing the location not only as a training ground for financial services but also a way to provide hands-on experience in construction skills taught by the school.
“At the ribbon-cutting ceremony I talked to some of the students involved in the project,” said Crosby. “Whether they were involved in the construction of the branch or are tellers in the office, they are all grateful for the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience in their respective trade.”
Students in the school’s building trade curriculums built 90% of the branch, handling carpentry, electrical work, painting, ceiling work and flooring. The workers were supervised by teachers in their respective trade. The only aspects of the branch not completed by students were the security systems and portions of the HVAC system, which were completed by contractors hired by Freedom.
The $510-million credit union provided a teller line that was customized and refurbished by the students. Freedom also provided an ATM, under-counter teller drawers, a vault and a security system. The total cost to build, excluding computers and office equipment, was approximately $50,000. The ongoing cost for rent is $1,620 per year for three years.
Approximately 40 students were involved in the branch construction and were selected by teachers. Work began July 1 and was completed in the beginning of September.
The branch—open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every school day—is staffed by six student tellers, and the three juniors and three seniors were trained by the credit union during the summer. Tellers are supervised by employees from Freedom's main office.
Along with students and teachers, any Freedom member can use the high school office. Teller transactions, deposit accounts and consumer loans are available at the branch. Appointments for mortgage and home equity loans can be scheduled to be handled at another office, as well as appointments with Freedom's certified financial planner.
Crosby said Freedom offers youth banking and financial literacy programs in schools throughout western Massachusetts, as well.
“We believe in education,” said Crosby. “The branch is part of the school’s retail marketing curriculum so the six student tellers, and future student tellers, will receive hands-on experience before they graduate. We will also be offering financial literacy training to all students of the high school.”
The credit union also expects that some of the students who run the CU will eventually move on to work for Freedom full-time at one of its other locations.
“We are constantly seeking employees who bring skill sets to the workplace. The students who will work in the school branch will have obtained many of those skills before they graduate,” said Crosby. “And we hope that the many of the students and teachers will become lifelong members of the credit union.” -Ray Birch