A Publication of WTVP

During the week of May 7-12, local organizations will help area residents improve their money management skills with Peoria’s first annual Money Smart Week (MSW).

Chicago is the birthplace of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Money Smart Week, with its sixth annual event taking place April 30-May 5. Chicago’s Money Smart Week is held each spring through a partnership of community groups, financial institutions, government departments and schools that participate in educational activities to help consumers learn how to manage their personal finances.

Laurie Peterson, Vice President of Community Reinvestment for National City Bank, attended MSW events in Chicago in both 2005 and 2006. Her passion is working with financial literacy programs and wealth-creation programs, and she has additional responsibilities that include providing assistance for organizations and municipalities that focus on affordable housing, small business development and neighborhood stabilization. She was astounded by the amount and variety of events at Chicago’s MSW, and thought this would be a program worth bringing to the Peoria area.

“After the 2006 event, I contacted Alejo Torres regarding the possibility of bringing the show to Peoria, using FICRAC (Financial Institutions CRA Council of Peoria) as the organizational base,” Peterson said. “Alejo and I both agreed that Peoria was the place to start in central Illinois, with the possibility of expansion to cover the balance of the region in future years.”

As the senior outreach manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Torres is responsible for coordinating Money Smart Week campaigns throughout Illinois. He is also senior strategist for expansion of the program throughout the Chicago Fed’s district and to other Federal Reserve Banks around the country.

“Coincidently, we had already given much thought for a push downstate and agreed that Peoria was as good as any city to start such expansion,” Torres said. “After meeting with Laurie and the FICRAC group it became evident that there was sincere interest in the program and they had a core group already established that could lead the way. Bringing together not-for-profits, financial institutions, schools and government agencies for the common goal of financial education is step one, and Peoria had already taken that step with FICRAC.”

Following in the footsteps of Chicago’s successful MSW may seem like a daunting task for Peoria, but Torres says that Peoria’s smaller size may be a benefit to the area’s program. “The planning and actual campaign components remain the same; the only obvious difference is scale,” Torres said. “Having said that, one of the advantages a small or mid-size city has over a city like Chicago is the connectivity among the partner organizations and ultimately to the citizens of the community. There is much more of a hometown and neighborly mind set that lends itself to faster coalition building, meeting objectives quickly and more easily, and again, getting the word out and the community excited about the program seems to always happen effectively.”

Bloomington retiree Richard Scott as Ben Franklin, the mascot of Money Smart Week. Photo by Deverman Advertising

There are approximately 50 local partners consisting of banks, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies and schools, joining together to provide the area with approximately 80 events over the course of the week. “It has been extremely easy to get a strong working group together,” Peterson said. “There really is no downside to Money Smart Week. It seems that the only organizations that have chosen not to participate were those that were looking for a venue to sell products, rather than being information providers.”

There is a wide range of financial topics covered in MSW events, from keeping a grocery budget to protecting yourself from identity theft. All events are listed on MSW Peoria’s website,

For Peoria’s first year, Peterson would like to see successful programs throughout the community during the week. Success would be measured by attendance levels, exit surveys of attendees and vendors, energized interest in being part of MSW 2008 and awareness of Money Smart Week by the general public.

“A first year campaign is always tough,” Torres said. “It can take a year or two for word to spread that sound money management classes are being offered for free and with no strings attached. We’ll manage our expectations but certainly would love to see our goals met or surpassed.”

Another goal for Money Smart Week Peoria is to increase the interest of other areas in Illinois, like Springfield, Bloomington and Champaign, to be involved in MSW 2008. The program has already been in contact with an organization in Champaign County that wants to be part of the partnership next year. Other Money Smart Weeks have been successful in Des Moines and the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. There have also been two Money Smart Week efforts outside of the Chicago Fed’s district that were adopted and coordinated by the University of Nebraska at Kearney for the city of Kearney and the Rutgers University Extension in Sussex County, New Jersey.

“The ultimate goal would be to have Money Smart Week go national,” Torres said. “However there are several hurdles to clear before that happens. The main obstacles include resources and the independent operation of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Although we are one system, each bank has its own financial literacy program or outreach efforts within their respective districts; sometimes as elaborate as Money Smart Week, sometimes not, but it’s almost always a matter of resources. Six years ago when the Chicago Fed decided to create this project, the bank dedicated a small staff and budget to the effort, which isn’t always possible at our sister banks. We do hope to begin moving in that direction due to the high levels of success we’ve experienced in the Midwest.”

Peterson has fully enjoyed bringing this event to the central Illinois area and looks forward to a successful inaugural year for Peoria. “Money Smart Week is turning out to be one of the most exciting things I have done as a community reinvestment manager,” Peterson said. “This program is designed to bring resources together for a community that might not happen otherwise. This is truly a program for the entire population of Peoria and the Tri- County area. It is free, it is useful and it is educational.”

For more information about Money Smart Week Peoria and for a full calendar of events taking place in the area, visit IBI