2021 Lloyd Levin Difference Maker Award Winner: Rachel Dumke

Every year, SecureFutures honors our founder, Lloyd Levin, by recognizing one individual volunteer and one partner organization for their contribution to our mission of teen financial empowerment. This year, we are thrilled to celebrate Rachel Dumke as our Difference Maker Volunteer.

When asked how she learned to manage money, Rachel Dumke has an unusual answer: the circus.

Growing up as one of six kids, Rachel learned how to be self-reliant and go for her goals. “I learned at an early age that if there was something I wanted to do, I could make it happen,” Rachel said. She started out by following her older sister’s footsteps as a dancer, but it wasn’t for her. That’s when she found unicycling.

By the age of 8, she had begun performing with Chicago’s Windy City Circus, and attended her first National Unicycle Meet. By age 12, she was also performing with Triton Trouper Circus and had built her repertoire of circus skills to include juggling, tight rope, and fire eating. 

But she had a bigger goal in mind: the 1987 International Unicycle Competition in Edogawa, Japan. Her parents couldn’t afford the trip. Instead, they empowered Rachel with financial education.

With her parents’ help, Rachel created a budget for the trip, including travel, lodging, and food. She also wrote letters and made phone calls to dozens of companies seeking sponsorship funding. With careful planning and saving, she was able to make the trip happen. She came home with the World Unicycle Queen title.

In her adult life, though she has stayed connected to the circus world, Rachel has also pursued other adventures. Her passion for teaching led her to a career in talent development in the financial sector. She now works at Bank Five Nine, focused on creating a culture of learning and supporting others in their professional growth. 

That passion for education, as well as her personal experiences of the importance of youth financial literacy, sparked her interest in SecureFutures’ mission. She started as a classroom volunteer eight years ago, and has volunteered every year since.

“I just completely bought into the vision and mission. I finally felt like this was my fit,” Rachel said. “Financial education was so important to me. If I can help anyone have a little more peace of mind and start off their adult life on a better foot, that’s success for me.”

Rachel says one thing that makes the volunteer culture at SecureFutures unique is the spirit of collaboration.

“You can always learn from one another. You definitely feel like you’re part of a family,” Rachel said.

She also says she learns as much from the students as they learn from her. “Every single time I meet with students, I learn something that I could be doing better,” she said. 

She remembers one of her first times teaching Money Sense at the Urban Ecology Center, covering the topic of credit scores. After class, a student came up to Rachel and asked, “Does everyone have a number? Even the important people?” 

Rachel realized he was asking if people with a lot of wealth are also accountable to the credit score system. She was able to explain more, confirming that every person’s credit score is based on the same information. But she realized through the conversation that, though the system is theoretically a level playing field, people with different financial statuses experience it much differently. Since then, she’s changed the way she teaches students about credit, finding ways to explain how a credit score can be a tool to empower them, rather than holding them back.

Reflecting on SecureFutures’ 15 year anniversary, Rachel says that what makes SecureFutures special is how the organization has continued to expand while remaining true to its mission.

“It’s been incredible to see the growth, how many people have now been impacted,” she said. “But still maintaining a very simple and clear message, as far as who we are as an organization, so that it’s easy for people to see the value that SecureFutures can provide. It’s exciting to be a part of.”

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