Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

First Nations Development Institute to partner with Dr. Per Cap during Financial Literacy Month

First Nations Development Institute [ ] is proud to partner with Dr. Per Cap [ ] during Financial Literacy Month to highlight the great work of some financial literacy heroes. Dr. Per Cap, as usual, provides his insight on all things related to financial education.

Dr. Per Cap's Financial Literacy All-Star Picks

April is national Financial Literacy Month, and what better way to celebrate than by recognizing a few outstanding individuals who are working hard to expand financial education efforts throughout Indian Country. Every Monday during April I am highlighting the accomplishments of one totally awesome person who embodies the spirit of Native financial empowerment through selfless dedication, action over words, and an inclusive community vision.

All Star #4: Yvonneda "Henry" Thompson, Director of Cooperative Extension Service, Chief Dull Knife College

Yvonneda "Henry" Thompson's journey to Financial Literacy All Star takes a less-traveled route than one might expect. She readily admits, "When I first found out about financial education, I didn't have a clue!"

That's hard to believe considering her 15-year tenure as Director of Cooperative Extension Service at Chief Dull Knife College [ ] in Lame Deer, Montana. During that time, Henry has helped build a major league financial education and asset-building program offering valuable community services such as an Individual Retirement Account program, a youth savings initiative, homebuyer and entrepreneurship training, and a booming Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site.

After earning a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota, Henry's first job was actually with the The Billings Gazette. In those days, articles had to be hand-delivered to editors and the frequent drives from Lame Deer to Billings were long and tiring. Community development turned out to be a better match for Henry's strong worth ethic and grassroots ideals, and although she still loves to read and write, she quickly recognized the importance of good credit and building wealth while working with clients.

"Later I attended one of the first "Building Native Communities" [ ] trainings and learned about compound interest," Henry explains. "So one day I asked my older sister: 'Did you know that if a person starts saving $50 each pay period from when she starts her first job, she'll be a millionaire by the time she reaches retirement?' Well, turns out my sister had already learned that lesson years ago. She started working as a secretary for an oil company in the '70s, worked her way up, invested wisely, and reached her goal of owning a brand new Mercedes by age 50."

Henry's financial prospects have come a long way since then, too, both personally and professionally. For the record, her own credit is great, but what makes her even prouder are the community-wide impacts of the programs she has helped coordinate. She is especially proud of the VITA program, which she feels is extremely rewarding because it "brings hard numbers fast." For example, she points to the fact that her VITA program prepared 500 tax returns in 2012 alone with over $1 million in facilitated refunds for community members. Hey, those numbers are better than LaBron James on a hot night! Moreover, VITA reaches people who might not attend a typical financial education class, and provides a gold mine of teachable moments on topics such as budgeting and bank accounts.

"Partnerships are key," Henry adds. "I have a small staff and much of my time is spent planning, not teaching. So it's important to find dedicated people who have a thorough understanding of what folks need to know about their finances. Then work with these people because you just can't do it on your own."

Clearly, financial education is a team sport in Lame Deer, and some of Henry's top players include the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council, First Interstate Bank, Northern Cheyenne Housing Authority, and People's Partner for Community Development.

Not bad for a woman whose interests outside of work include spending quality time with family and friends and reading anything other than science fiction and Harlequin novels. (Sorry Fabio!) She also dreams of someday writing her own novel. But just don't ask Henry about retiring any time soon.

"There's no such thing as retirement in Indian Country," Henry answers. "I'll always work in the community -- volunteering, contributing and assisting in any way that I can."

Spoken like a true leader. Thank you, Henry, for all that you do!


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