Translating the dry lingo of personal finance into interactive games to hold students’ attention is one way that Sharon Dufour gives back to the community in her chief financial officer role at LUSO Federal Credit Union.
“A finance person is a storyteller,” Dufour said. “The numbers are there, but they don’t have meaning for everybody. I’m just a people person, and I like to help people feel good and be successful.”
Dufour put her high-energy personal stamp on presentations in Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts financial literacy classes for thousands of students in Hampden, Ludlow and Wilbraham schools each year. Out went the flashcards, replaced by Jeopardy-style games.
“You have the freedom to modify the lessons and make it exciting and whatever engages them,” Dufour said. “I always give them the unexpected.”
Presentations start out for kindergarten classes with an introduction to the basics of finance and commerce, and proceed to savings strategies and counting games. The lessons often take place near the end of the school year, when both students and teachers are eager to see a new face in front of the room. As an incentive to absorb the material, students receive awards in the form of books, school supplies and gift cards.
The lessons become more sophisticated in later grades. Fourth- and fifth-graders opened and operated a school store, and were required to draw up a business plan and make a presentation to credit union officers in support of a loan application. High schoolers get tips in drawing up resumes and building their personal brands. Dufour also trains nearly 100 volunteers who assist in delivering Junior Achievement programs to local schools. The organization sponsors close to 30 community events a year, from Easter egg hunts to holiday charity events.
Dufour was nominated this year for a Credit Union Hero award alongside Kimberly Anderson, branch officer at LUSO and a vital part of the credit union’s financial literacy work and Dufour’s partner in the effort’s management.
“To say Sharon and Kim actively work to promote the financial literacy and the credit union is an understatement,” President and CEO Jennifer M. G. Calheno wrote in her nomination of the two women. “They truly enjoy what they do and believe in the credit union’s mission.”
Credit unions’ commitment to member service was a big part of their appeal when Dufour joined LUSO Federal Credit Union in 2005 after working as a comptroller in the energy industry. Dufour reinforces customer service in her dealings with LUSO’s front-line staff.
“They’re the most important people we have,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You don’t need me to count what we don’t have.’”