There’s a danger in giving Anne-Marie Bisson a little project to take care of: You may find it’s all of a sudden become a big, important one. Throughout her career, Bisson has made a habit of taking an idea and running with it, helping to make improving financial education in the community it serves one of the signature initiatives at Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union in Lowell, where she serves as vice president. And in her personal life, a charity launched by Bisson three years ago as a small memorial to her daughter, Catie, has already blossomed into a institution that serves over a dozen high schools.
“I guess don’t like to do anything halfway,” she said, laughing.
Bisson started out in banking, but after taking a few years off to raise her young family, she found herself drawn to credit unions. “I came here because I was a member here. I was actually making a deposit to one of my kids’ savings accounts when I applied for the job. I think back then, I didn’t really understand the difference [between banks and credit unions] – I just knew it was a friendly place that had great rates,” she said.
She started as a part-time teller at Jeanne D’Arc more than 23 years ago, just hoping for a little work to cover her car payments. Over the years, her role has grown and grown. In 2005, she took over Jeanne D’Arc’s financial education programs, expanding the program from a part-time position to a full-time commitment, with five dedicated employees.
Bisson has been “a trailblazer in this area,” wrote William Nagle, senior vice president of the Massachusetts Credit Union League, in nominating her. “Anne-Marie has been extremely generous as a resource and guide for others in the industry charged with the same mission.”
Jeanne D’Arc opened up its first branch in a local high school in 1997, and under Bisson’s watch, the high school education partnership has blossomed from a part-time job training program to a full-service financial education curriculum, which covers budgeting, credit, insurance and other financial topics.
“There’s a lot of meat to it,” she said. “The students have been great – we’ve hired many to come and work with us full time. They’ve been great advocates for us. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
But Bisson’s effort in the local schools don’t stop with her job. In 2010, her 20-year-old daughter Catie died of a rare genetic disorder, Loeys-Dietz syndrome, which causes congenital heart failure. Shortly before she died, Bisson and her daughter had read and been moved by a newspaper article which described the challenges faced by homeless students at Catie’s alma mater, Lowell High School.
“Catie and I had talked a lot about [the article] when she was sick, and it just seemed the right thing to do. We took an old classroom in Lowell High School and brought in tons of donated clothes that were appropriate for teenagers; we put up poles and shelves, brought in toiletries, and we opened Catie’s Closet.” If teachers or social workers find out a student is homeless or suffering from a financial hardship, they can direct them to the closet.
At first, Bisson thought of the project as a “one-shot deal,” she said. But when she saw the response, the project quickly expanded, and will soon open its 14th location.
That choice – to step up her level of commitment when she saw an unmet need – is characteristic of Bisson.
“Whether working for her own credit union, helping other individuals, helping other credit unions on a state level, a regional level, as well as a national level, or helping those within her community, Anne-Marie’s combination of warmth and grace, along with her knowledge and expertise, is worthy of the true definition of a Credit Union Hero,” said Nagle.