The Accidental Educator

‘Many of our proposed members do not have a firm grasp on the language, much less the financial system.’

October 09, 2013
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When Emma Smalley sees a need, she rolls up her sleeves.

The financial counselor for Boulevard Federal Credit Union in Amherst, N.Y., constantly pushes herself and her credit union to improve, excel, and reach out to those who most need credit union services.

Smalley is working with NCUA to start a new credit union for poor communities in Buffalo, N.Y., who have limited access to high-quality, affordable financial services.

The city has seen a great influx of refugees and immigrants from all over the world. And while there are some credit unions in Buffalo, none are in the immediate poor, west-side neighborhoods the new institution wants to serve.

“Many of our proposed members do not have a firm grasp on the language, much less the financial system,” Smalley explains. “?The idea of these smart, kind, and industrious people walking into a big bank and unknowingly signing up for high-fee checking accounts was enough to keep me up at night.”

With support from her husband, friends, the Credit Union Association of New York (CUANY), and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, Smalley’s plan got underway. The credit union could be up and running by the summer of 2015.

“Starting a new credit union is beyond rare, and I think Emma’s ability to think outside the box and strive for the highest goals really make her unique,” says Cara Carlevatti, vice chairman of CUANY’s Young Professionals Commission and member development coordinator at Great Erie Federal Credit Union, Orchard Park, N.Y.

“I admire Emma’s tenacity and dedication to her craft,” she continues. “She is genuine and really wants to help the underprivileged residents of Buffalo’s West Side neighborhoods.”

Smalley has made the credit union movement’s mission her own.

Since starting as a credit union teller, she has pushed herself and her credit union to improve.

With encouragement from her manager, Smalley started Boulevard Federal’s financial education department. She also earned her Developmental Educator certification from the National Credit Union Foundation.

“I got into financial education by accident,” Smalley says. “I was a loan processor, and I was really discouraged when people had bad credit because they didn’t understand how it worked—no one told them the rules of the game.

“To me it seems basic that financial education is important,” she adds. “What other area really affects everyone? Peoples’ ability to properly handle their finances has a huge impact on the quality of their lives.”

Elizabeth Kraft
October 18, 2013 8:09 pm
Emma has always been a fighter for the under dog. You can't help but to get caught up in her passion and energy! most of us just talk about making a change. It's so nice to see someone who does something....something that will change peoples lives for the better. Hurray!


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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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