Credit Union Brings Life Skills

Credit Union Brings Life Skills

Apple Federal operates out of West Potomac’s cafeteria.

Dani Bryan is getting first-hand knowledge about how to operate a branch of a credit union—and she’s doing it in the cafeteria at West Potomac High School.

Bryan is a special needs student who attends the Earl L. Pulley Center. Yet, when she was asked to work in the new student run branch of the Apple Federal Credit Union, she stepped up to the plate. The Earl L. Pulley Career Center is one of two centers in Fairfax County schools where the focus is primarily on community-based career education. The Center provides special education students between the ages of 16 and 21 with an authentic work setting and an assigned curriculum based upon their areas of interest as they research their career aspirations.

This is Apple’s 24th Student Run Branch, but it is the first one in the country that is run by special education students. Students working within this new Apple Student-Run Branch will work on their social skills as they serve faculty, staff and peers from both West Potomac and the Pulley Career Center.

“West Potomac is honored and grateful for the trust Apple FCU has placed with the Pulley students, their acceptance of the idea to have a student-run branch consisting of special needs students, and their firm commitment to special education,” said Clem Castellano, Employment and Transition Representative from the Earl L. Pulley Career Center.

“I’ve learned about special education and realized that there’s not a whole lot out about financial education out there for them,” said Lauren Geerdes, regional coordinator.

Geerdes spends time at high schools around Fairfax County, all but six of which have credit union branches. So far she is impressed with what she sees.

“I watch Dani count money and she does a great job,” Geerdes said.

BRYAN SAID THAT SHE VOLUNTEERED because she likes working with money, but is not sure if she wants to do this in the future. She said that it took her about two weeks to learn the job and that there was a lot to learn.

Bryan serves as a teller, while Katie Sebring is the branch manager and Joe Aragon the assistant branch manager and customer service rep.

“He [Joe] is a good PR man,” said Gerry VanPelt, the Puller Center staff person who oversees the branch. “This is pretty unique; I love it and have learned a lot.”

The branch at West Potomac resides in a small room off the cafeteria. It is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during lunch periods.

“We don’t want students to be responsible for huge sums of money so there is a high level of security,” Geerdes said.

The branch has been open since Nov. 15 and they have opened nine new accounts. They can also service customers with existing accounts.

“You’d be surprised how many already have Apple accounts,” VanPelt said.

Felicia Soloman, a custodial worker at West Potomac, has an account. “This has been a great help to me. I have my mind on work and forget to go to the bank. Now if I need gas and need a few dollars I can come here,” Soloman said. “We only have 30 minutes for lunch and don’t have time to go to the main credit union. I tell all my co-workers about this.”

Soloman’s daughter will be attending Edison High School next year and Felicia is hoping that she’ll open an account there.

“It’s an educational venture,” Geerdes said. “If you build a responsible consumer at 14, they will grow up and be responsible.”