Imagine setting out to do something good in your community and the service you provide is so valuable that the demand for it rapidly increases to the point you’re nearly overwhelmed.

Demand for services is good, right?

But what if the service you’re offering is free? In the credit union industry, that could be good, too and it could create a boon.

Such was the situation that led to the formation of Partners in Education Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) committed to bolstering education, primarily financial literacy, within the community they serve. Conceived by Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union (FMFCU), Partners in Education was the solution to an overwhelming demand for financial education.

Like most member-owned cooperatives, FMFCU set out decades ago to provide financial education within the community. The CU hired a certified educator who understood curriculum, could identify needs, and could coordinate lessons using subject matter experts from within the Credit Union. FMFCU management understood the value of the service and were pleased by how rapidly the demand for this type of service increased. As the CU tried to meet the demand, it became clear that the best method was to partner with organizations that shared its mission. So, FMFCU created a Foundation to carry out this philanthropic work and over time took on partners, thus morphing into Partners in Education.

When Delco Hi-Q, the nation’s oldest continuous academic quiz competition, was in need of a major sponsor, FMFCU stepped up and filled the void, partnering at the time with the chamber of commerce and the local intermediate unit to carry out this tradition that serves 21 schools outside Philadelphia, PA. Major funders like the Wilbur C. and Betty Lea Foundation, Kimberly-Clark, and CCRES have since committed to the cause. The competition also thrives in Washington,  Wisconsin, and Alabama.

FMFCU now employs about a dozen certified educators to carry out the mission of Partners in Education. While the CU covers administrative costs, the Foundation raises funds to help defer the cost of books and material used in lessons, as well as transportation for school field trips to Bear Country Credit Union, Hi-Q, and the annual Partners in Education Celebration, a premier academic recognition event that awards more than $50,000 in scholarships and prizes to students, teachers, and schools.

The prestigious awards ceremony held in suburban Philadelphia is the talk of local academia. “It promotes healthy competition off the athletic field,” said Rick Durante, Executive Director. “As much as the schools appreciate cash awards, they compete even more fervently for the trophies, which are a testament to the efforts put forth by teachers and that rival athletic trophies.”

While too-big-to-fail FIs affix their logos to sports arenas in big cities, credit unions are in the schools, community centers, and libraries working one-on-one to help people become financially independent. This is the credit union difference, and it is most evident in April—Financial Literacy month. This type of community outreach is one reason more and more young people are choosing credit unions over traditional FIs.

The credit union difference is also an example of servant leadership at work. Because credit unions serve their communities, the credit union movement is alive, well, and growing.