On a sunny, 70-degree afternoon in July, a handful of just-graduated high school seniors met voluntarily in a class at Racine’s Prairie School to talk about credit with Barb McNulty.

Going into a school during the summertime might not be the activity of choice for most teens, and this particular class even stayed a few minutes later than the designated time to ask about credit scores. Barb McNulty’s lessons can have that kind of infectious impact.

For all of these reasons and more, we’re highlighting Barb as our Feature Volunteer. As part of our celebration of 10 years in teen financial empowerment, we’ll be showcasing the unique, inspiring contributions made by volunteers on our communities.

McNulty has been a volunteer since 2008, when she worked for Guaranty Bank. She’s since shifted to a full-time career as a Realtor, with a notable side role as CFO for her husband’s tool and die shop. What really pushed her to step into the lives of teens was the choices her own sons made in their youth. McNulty’s three sons are now grown and have made her a grandmother 15-times over – she recently brought her granddaughter Miranda along for one of her Money Sense lessons – and she said it remains important to her to be able to teach young people at a critical time in their understanding of personal finance.

“I keep coming back because I saw my kids make mistakes in their teen years. I don’t want these kids … to experience money the hard way,” she said.

McNulty has volunteered at various Racine high schools over the last eight years, as well as high schools in Burlington, Kenosha and Milwaukee. All told, she’s spent well more than three, 24-hour day’s worth of time as a financial education volunteer, covering more than 300 students. Of her fond memories from volunteering, she said one teen on Milwaukee’s south side stands out. In that class, McNulty handed out her business card, per usual, and a female students quickly reached out for advice.

“She was doing the family budget. She was in charge of that and she was 17. She was very confused. But she found a lot of value in what we were teaching and she’d go home and talk to her parents about their budget,” she said. “With things like that, you know you changed someone’s life.”

Back in Racine, McNulty’s recent six-part Money Sense class at Prairie School had started with four students then grew to seven, all having signed up on their own. Kyler, 18, asked if his online bank account effected his score, and Everett, 18, sought a fundamental answer to “how they figure out” a credit score. McNulty followed the students’ curiosities with matter-of-fact personal stories and a welcoming smile. To her, she’s humbled by the opportunity to help teens at this turning point in their lives.

“I’ve found if you can reach one child, that’s huge,” she said.

– story by Justin Kern, marketing & communications manager, Make A Difference – Wisconsin

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