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Lamas honored for distinguished service

WORTHINGTON — A financial literacy specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Nobles County has been honored as one of four recipients of the 2017 Dean’s Distinguished Award.

Jose Lamas accepted the award honoring an off-campus program staff member last week from U of M Extension Dean Bev Durgan. Other awards were presented to the distinguished program coordinator, distinguished nutrition educator and on-campus program staff member.

Nominees for the awards, which were established in 1987, are considered for their accomplishments, teamwork, inclusiveness and success in exceeding expectations. The honorees’ contributions exemplify excellence and support the Extension educational mission.

“I was really surprised to receive the award,” said Lamas, adding that the honor is special because it recognizes the value of the work he does and the help he provides.

Lamas moved to Worthington in 1990 and began his career with University of Minnesota Extension in 2005, when he was selected to be an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer. Two years later, he transitioned into a full-time position with Extension’s Center for Family Development as one of four members of Extension’s Latino Financial Literacy Team.

He continues to serve on the team today, leading classes and helping people learn to manage their finances in a 12-county area of southwest Minnesota. Because of his work with immigrant populations, much of his time is spent in Nobles County. His office is with Nobles County Extension in the lower level of the Government Center — and he spends one day per week at the Extension Regional Center located in Worthington’s Bioscience Park — but often times he’s out and about, working with partners and leading classes in communities from Luverne to Milan and Pipestone to Windom.

“Some of the classes I collaborate with somebody else,” said Lamas, noting that he works with Community Education, probation groups, the Alternative Learning Center, high schools, middle schools and summer schools. He also collaborates with Head Start, Early Childhood Family Education, Even Start, the Workforce Center, Nobles County Integration Collaborative and English as a Second Language classes.

Sara Croymans, Lamas’ direct supervisor, nominated him for the award, saying his collaborations and contributions exemplify excellence and support the Extension educational mission.

Lamas began working with Extension in an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer in 2005 to provide financial education to Latino individuals and families in southwest Minnesota. In August 2007, he joined the Latino Financial Literacy Team (LFLT) in Extension’s Center for Family Development and continued to provide financial education to Latino participants. In addition, he built partnerships, particularly in Nobles County, as a financial capability educator.

Croymans said Lamas’ work from 2012 through 2016 reached nearly 3,000 individuals in more than 215 classes. Meanwhile, he also provided one-on-one education with another 519 individuals. In addition to his educational efforts with the Latino community, Lamas also works with African Americans, the Karen (with assistance from interpreters), Native Americans and caucasians.

In addition to teaching financial literacy, Lamas also teaches tenant education, access to higher education for parents and insurance literacy. Two of his primary classes are RentWise, which covers lease agreements, budgeting, home inspections and building good credit, and Dollar Works, a 12-unit program that covers goal setting, saving, investing, banking, writing checks and balancing checkbooks and paying bills.

“We also talk about credit and debt,” Lamas said. “We talk about needs or wants — eating out or buying milk, paying for cable TV or rent.”

Lamas helped adapt the Dollar Works 2 curriculum to be more appropriate for immigrant audiences and reviewed and piloted the Rentwise materials, noted Croyman.

He also uses class time to address other issues, like fire safety or lead poisoning, bringing in guest speakers to cover certain topics.

“I’m also doing a program on health care directives,” he said. “I received training for that.”

Lamas’ free classes are offered in both English and Spanish, with interpreters brought in to reach people in the Karen and African communities. He works varying hours in order to reach people when they are available and uses a variety of techniques in his educational classes, from giving students beans to plan out their monthly budget to playing Bingo with words used in the Credit Wisely worksheets.

Lamas credits his fellow Extension staffers in Worthington for helping him with ideas in his programming.

“I like working with all of the people I work with,” Lamas said. “I’ve had many different jobs, and this is a job I really like. I also learn from them and from the University, too — they provide a lot of training and staff development so we can teach families the things they need to know.

“To me, solving something is the main thing,” he added. “People are very happy when you are helping them with something. That’s what I like the most. To me, that’s the most important part.”

“Jose is truly a valued member of the Latino Financial Literacy Team and Center for Family Development,” Croymans said in nominating Lamas. “He shares information on trends/client issues he observes in the community, shares resources and teaching materials with colleagues, and at times, informally mentors colleagues.”

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