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November 22nd, 2022


“THE CASTLE 2.0” Media Day at John F. Kennedy High School

Dear Members,

My name is Lourdes Cortez, Interim CEO, and I am thrilled to represent North Jersey Federal Credit Union once again and address the students and faculty of John F. Kennedy high school here today. I graduated from this high school many years ago. And I still feel right at home when walking these halls.

North Jersey FCU first came to JFK high school over a decade ago, and throughout this time we have maintained a close relationship with the JFK Knights. This past Spring, we were successful in launching “The Castle 2.0” for the students and faculty of John F. Kennedy Educational complex. And we can’t thank Principal Osoria and his staff enough for their continuous support through the years.

We are pleased to announce that “The Castle 2.0” has re-opened, and today we acknowledge how proud we are of this collaborative, financial literacy initiative between John F. Kennedy High School and North Jersey Federal Credit Union. I want to first thank Ms. Pamela Powell, who was a very instrumental part in instituting State accreditations, allowing the Castle student workers to receive credits toward their high school diploma.Lourdes Cortez

A special thanks goes to Principal Osoria, Vice Principal Tanya Greene, Edwin Hernandez, Martine Grant, and “Chief” Danny for their involvement in rejuvenating “The Castle”. And from our North Jersey FCU team, a special thanks goes to our COO, Bayardo Ramirez and his team for bringing this project forward.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the Chairman of the Board of Directors of NJFCU, Mr. George Hampton.

This year’s Castle students are a very enthusiastic group who have quickly become accustomed to our credit union’s all-new core processing systems. Castle students are now able to make funds more available and use our ATM. But most importantly, they serve as financially-literate role models to their fellow students and peers.

We look forward to seeing continuous growth with The Castle, while educating our future generations.

November 22nd, 2022

PIX 11 News Coverage/Article – Click here to read the news article

PATERSON, N.J. (PIX11) — In this castle, financial literacy is king, and students at John F. Kennedy High School are royalty.

“Banking has really changed,” said Paterson Public Schools Superintendent Eileen Shafer. “We wanted to change with it.”

Paterson Public Schools unveiled the ‘Castle 2.0,’ a new version of the JFK Knights’ in-school branch of the North Jersey Federal Credit Union. The upgraded branch now has an ATM and, for the first time, students who work there can help customers open new accounts. It’s an opportunity that many high schoolers of yesteryear could never cash in on.

“Unfortunately back then, many, many years ago, I don’t think it was thought of,” Lourdes Cortez, retired CEO of North Jersey Federal Credit Union, said.

Business education teacher Edwin Hernandez explained why it’s important.

“Many bad choices and mistakes can be avoided if financial literacy skills and good money habits are established earlier on in life,” Hernandez said.

Edwin Hernandez

The Castle itself is nothing new. In fact, it opened up back in 2011 inside the high school. More than a decade later, it still serves as a hands-on way for students to learn about financial literacy, and in some cases, introduce them to a new career path.

“I didn’t really get to choose, it chose me,” Janelis DeJesus, a JFK 2016 graduate who worked at the Castle, said. Now, she works for the Credit Union.

“It is helpful for [current students] because now they have more experience than we did,” DeJesus said. “It’s something they should really take forward and take advantage of.”

From savings to retirement accounts, students will have knowledge that’s priceless.

“I’d just tell them to stay encouraged and to continue to learn about financial literacy,” DeJesus said.

TAP Into Paterson – Your Neighborhood News Online

Click here to read the TAP Into news coverage Article – Click here to read the news article

PATERSON, NJ — Janelis Dejesus wasn’t thinking about a career in financial services when she was placed in a class at John F. Kennedy High School where students worked at an on-campus bank called “The Castle”.

That was almost 10 years ago. Dejesus returned to her old high school last week to participate in a celebration of the reopening of The Castle. She attended last Tuesday’s event as a full-time employee of the Totowa-based financial services firm North Jersey Federal Credit Union, which launched The Castle in 2010.

“That’s a dream come true for a superintendent,” Paterson schools chief Eileen Shafer said, referring to the student who parlayed a high school class into a career.

JFK alumna Jenelis Dejesus, right, with Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer at the event celebrating the reopening of the school’s banking program, The Castle.

The Castle was created to give students at Kennedy experience in financial services by having them learn the operation of something akin to a small-town bank. Students and staff members set up savings accounts, and students in the class handled their bank transactions.

“They are semi-financially literate role models for their fellow students and peers,” Lourdes Cortez, a chief executive officer at NJFCU, said of the teens in the banking class.

At its peak in 2018, The Castle had about 250 savings accounts, said Edwin Hernandez, the teacher who runs the class. The Castle shut down during the pandemic and reopened this year. So far, the program is back up to about 50 personal bank accounts.

Since the reopening, the district is calling the student-run bank The Castle 2.0, a nod to the changes that have happened in financial services during the past 12 years.

In the past, the class taught students about the tasks required of bank tellers, officials said. Under the reboot, the focus has shifted to teaching the students about financial services, such as home mortgages, auto loans and retirement planning accounts.

Among the new features at The Castle 2.0 is a functioning ATM. Also, North Jersey Federal Credit Union plans to donate $5 to students with Castle accounts for every “A” they get on their report cards.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.