Maps Credit Union Launches Inaugural Community Challenge Award

Maps Credit Union will award $2,000 to someone who can help solve the problem of teen homelessness in Marion County.

“Teen homelessness isn’t something you see all the time,” said Mitzi Smith, Community Development Officer at Maps Credit Union. “But it is there. Marion County has one of the highest populations of homeless and runaway teens in the state.”

Smith is pleased that the credit union will be able to help fund a creative solution to the problem through the Maps Community Foundation.

The Maps Community Foundation is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that was founded to bring together all of the credit union’s philanthropic efforts and place an additional focus on asset-building initiatives and financial education opportunities within our community. It is funded mainly through the credit union’s Free Community Checking Account, staff donations and fundraisers, and member donations. All Maps members who have a Free Community Checking account benefit from a free checking product.

In a recent move to simplify the way Maps handles donations from its Free Community Checking product, the credit union began donating one penny each time a member uses their debit card to make a purchase in a brick-and-mortar store or online.

“Free Community Checking is such as great product, but we have had a hard time showing members how their activity directly impacts our community,” said Jill Nowacki, VP of Development. “With this penny-per-use contribution, it is easy for members to see exactly how their activity results in Maps’ community investment.”

“Mitzi and I began work on the challenge award soon after the Maps Community Foundation was formed,” Nowacki explained. “We looked at some of the issues that affect our community and how MCF could direct funds to make a big impact and inspire Maps members.”

Nowacki and Smith narrowed their list down to three youth-related issues and let Maps employee votes determine which to concentrate on for the first Community Challenge Award competition. “Teen homelessness won hands down,” says Nowacki.

The award is open to anyone who has a creative solution to address teen homelessness in Marion County. Submissions, which can be sent to Smith by email ([email protected]), must include a one-page executive summary describing the idea, the cost associated with implementing it, how to measure the intervention, and how it will benefit the targeted group. The complete project can be presented as a written report or a video presentation. Complete submission guidelines and contest rules are posted on the Maps website (

The deadline to submit a complete project is October 1. The winner will be announced at the credit union’s annual meeting on October 30.

A volunteer panel of judges will rate submissions on originality, usability, affordability, and measurability. The panel will choose the winner based on these criteria.

The $2,000 award will be split between the person or group who submits the winning proposal and a local nonprofit selected in partnership between the winner and the credit union.

Smith is excited to see the submissions. “I can’t wait to see what our community comes up with,” she says. “I have learned a lot about teen homelessness through my work in the community, both while I was still working in a branch and now that I am in my current role.” Smith is one of a group of credit union staff who is trained to present financial education courses to community groups, and she has presented courses to teen mothers and parolees, groups who often struggle financially and are at great risk of homelessness. “I would have been happy to work on any of the topic ideas we presented to the staff,” Smith says, “but I am thrilled that the staff chose teen homelessness for the first competition.” Depending on the success of the first Community Challenge Award program, Smith continues, the credit union will choose how many awards to offer each year and how to focus those award programs on all of the counties we serve.

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