In a Nutshell: Embark Credit Union not only delivers quality financial products and services to Great Falls, Montana residents, but it goes above and beyond to support the community in a number of ways. The credit union spearheads multiple financial literacy initiatives for students of all ages and goes out into the community to educate residents on important financial topics. It also supports women entrepreneurs through its annual The Fire Within Reception. Additionally, Embark partners with organizations such as United Way and NeighborWorks to help deliver health, education, and other financial initiatives. Because of these and numerous other efforts in the Great Falls area, we are recognizing Embark Credit Union with our Editor’s Choice™ Award for Community Commitment.
For more than 80 years, Embark Credit Union has been working to enhance the lives of its members and its community. The credit union was founded in 1936 with the mission to provide financial services to teachers in Cascade County, Montana.
The institution naturally grew over the decades and eventually expanded its charter to serve audiences outside of the education community.
“In its simplest form, we’re really here to make a difference for the people in our community,” said Erin Townsend, the credit union’s Vice President for Member Services, who told us Embark promises its members it will simplify their financial lives, work in their best interests, and provide options to help them achieve financial security.
Today, Embark Credit Union serves Cascade County and the surrounding areas with two locations in the county seat of Great Falls. The credit union features an array of financial products and services, from a wide selection of checking and savings accounts to various loans, and modern online banking features.
But Embark Credit Union caught our attention — not for its healthy selection of products it offers members — but for what it does above and beyond simply functioning as a financial institution. The credit union is committed to enriching the Great Falls community and beyond through its robust financial literacy initiatives, supporting local businesses, and giving back in many other ways.
For its dedication to Great Falls, we are recognizing Embark Credit Union with our Editor’s Choice™ Award for Community Commitment.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Townsend to learn more about Embark and the various ways it engages with and supports the community.
Delivering Financial Literacy in Schools and to the Community at Large
“We want to educate the youth in our community, whether it’s through programs in the classroom, via our youth accounts, or additional programs we offer inside the credit union,” Townsend said. “We’re trying to get these important tools and information to young people.”
Oftentimes parents do not provide sufficient financial education at home, either because of long-standing taboos around talking about money or because they don’t feel confident themselves about their own level of financial literacy. Townsend said she has seen this national trend to be true in Great Falls as well.
“If we can form these relationships with children when they’re young, hopefully, we’ll be their financial institution for life,” Townsend said. “We have accounts for kids from zero to 12 years old, and we start working in third-grade classrooms to provide financial education.”
The Money on the Bookshelf program incentivizes participants to learn about finance by reading a series of 10 books on different financial topics. Once a child reads all 10 books and completes the accompanying answer sheets, he or she receives a $25 deposit into his or her Explorers Club Savings Account.
Townsend said Embark Credit Union also teaches a financial literacy class to middle schoolers in the area. And for high schoolers, the credit union facilitates reality fairs that give the students insight into what it’s like to manage finances in the real world.
Embark’s financial literacy efforts aren’t reserved for students — the credit union does its part to help those within the community who have fallen on hard times.
“We partner with United Way and offer numerous financial resources to improve financial literacy,” Townsend said. “Recently, we spoke with residents of the Great Falls Rescue Mission. This was an opportunity to discuss credit repair and credit-building options offered by Embark.”
She said Embark actually provides services to help them acquire some positive marks on their credit report.
“When they get back on their feet, they may need a vehicle to get back and forth to work, and we can help them get started on a credit-ready path,” she said.
The Fire Within Celebrates and Supports Local Women Business Owners
Embark Credit Union also makes its mark in the Great Falls community by showing its support for women entrepreneurs in the area.
“The Fire Within reception was created as an exciting way to help celebrate and acknowledge the successes of local women business owners, while allowing them to connect with one another,” according to the Embark Credit Union website.
The program, which began in 2011, recognizes women business owners each year with the Inspire Award and the Aspire Award.
The Inspire Award is given to a woman business owner who has at least five successful years in business and has mentored at least one other entrepreneur. The business owner will have also made a significant personal contribution to the business’s success, growth or expansion.
“We are looking for a business-savvy woman who has helped or is helping other business owners or budding entrepreneurs,” according to the credit union website.
And the Aspire Award goes to “a woman business owner who has recently realized her dream by starting a new venture,” according to the website. “Her early success and accomplishments show her creativity, passion, and drive.”
The Aspire Award winner should be in business for less than five years.
“We get together and we celebrate the fact that these women took the risk,” Townsend said. “How did they do it? What financial resources did they have to utilize to make it happen?”
She said the event is also an opportunity to partner successful women business owners with women who are just starting out or are considering starting their own business to mentor them or help them take the plunge. The mentors can also help the new business owners find the financial resources they need.
The 2019 Aspire Award winner is Kari lane Johnson of My Viola Floral Studio. And the Inspire Award winner is Susan Crocker of The Good Wood Guys.
“We don’t have a lot of big box stores, so our backbone is locally owned business,” Townsend said. “So we definitely try to celebrate what these women have done in forming their businesses to benefit our community.”
Other Areas of Focus Include Human Services and Vital Community Assets
Townsend said that, in addition to advancing financial literacy, Embark prioritizes helping underserved and low-income populations and supporting vital community assets such as arts, culture, and economic development.
She said the credit union’s partnership with United Way is one of its most impactful when it comes to supporting health, education, and financial initiatives within the community.
“We have different things we do through the entire calendar year to try to raise dollars for United Way that will benefit our community,” Townsend said.
“I’m sitting across from the banker as I type this review. It is past business hours, but she is still working with me. This goes beyond any level of member service I could imagine. I will never forget how wonderfully I was treated. If you are looking for a lending institution that treats you like a member and not just an account holder, Embark is the place to come.” — An Embark CU member
She said NeighborWorks is another organization Embark Credit Union frequently works with.
“They help low to moderate-income individuals get into homes, and homeownership is a huge priority for us,” Townsend said. “We provide financial support to NeighborWorks and a couple of our staff serve on different committees for the organization, as well.”
And speaking of homeownership, Embark’s mortgage loan officer teaches multiple classes throughout the year for first-time homebuyers, Townsend said. The credit union also hosts workshops that address how to handle finances in various stages of homeownership, such as consolidating debt to pay off mortgages quicker or what to do with your money after your mortgage is paid.
And the credit union supports the arts in part through its Young Masters Art Program.
“The Young Masters Art Program was started in 2010 and is designed to encourage and celebrate high school artists from Great Falls and surrounding communities,” according to the website. “The program consists of five components, three of which are sponsored by Embark — The People’s Choice Reception and Awards; Young Masters Awards and hands-on technique classes.”
It’s not every day that we come across a financial institution as deeply involved in its local community as Embark Credit Union is. Whether it is delivering financial education lessons to students, helping people turn their credit around, or supporting young artists, the credit union’s community commitment is evident on a daily basis.