Northeast Community Credit Union recently held a ribbon cutting for the new Unaka Branch, a student-run branch located inside Unaka High School.

The Unaka Branch offers an innovative education experience for UHS students. The in-school branch is designed to familiarize students with the proper way to handle money and to provide hands-on learning experiences.

In honor of the ribbon cutting, several of Carter County’s legislators and local politicians visited the school to see the branch in action. U.S. Representative Phil Roe, State Representative John Holsclaw, Carter County commissioners and Carter County school board members all attended the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Representative Phil Roe praised the initiative for providing students with invaluable hands-on education experiences. Roe told the students this type of education was extremely important to help them safeguard their finances as they grew older and continued their education.

“Student loan debt is at an all-time high,” Roe said.

He continued that student loans are easier to get, but that it didn’t mean students should get them. He encouraged students to explore other options, like scholarships and grants instead of going hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt.

“Some young people have not been able to purchase their first home because they have gotten so deeply in debt with student loans,” Roe said. “Learn to make smart money decisions now and it will benefit you in the future.”

The branch is the first of its kind in Carter County. The Unaka Branch is open two days a week, for two hours at a time to give students the opportunity to take part in unique experiential learning programs.

NCCU President/CEO Teresa Arnold said the opening of the UHS Branch was a group effort involving the Carter County School System, the NCCU Board of Directors and NCCU staff.

“When we presented this idea to the school system, Director Dr. Kevin Ward was immediately interested,” Arnold said. “He said this was something the school system could greatly benefit from and he took it to the school board. They agreed, and we kept moving forward from there. We are so excited to give this opportunity to the students.”

The students will learn to conduct financial transactions and will take park in various campaigns led by NCCU personnel. The lessons are planned to coincide with classroom lesson plans so the students will gain double instruction time on key personal finance topics. Students are learning first-hand about business, customer service skills, the American economic system, personal finance and more.

Students are selected to work in the branch through an “interview” process which includes feedback to help students be better prepared for future job interviews. Students earn community service credits required for scholarships and gain beneficial skills that will help them in the workplace later in their lives.