Continuing our “People of P+P” series, this month we would like to introduce our readers to our FAIR Banking team. As an extension of our financial services, FAIR was developed through great community input, along with a partnership with Sunrise Banks, LLC, to be a safe alternative for those who are unbanked, under-banked, or unhappily banked. Our FAIR staff are direct advocates to help people get back into a reliable banking relationship.

This interview is with Cieritta Natee, Lenore Curry, and Karrionna Drain (pictured above).


Q:  How would you describe the FAIR team’s role within Prepare + Prosper?

KARRIONNA:  I have thoughts on that. I feel like FAIR is that hidden gem when it comes to Prepare + Prosper. I think P+P is really known for the tax clinic, that’s very front and center. That’s what most people in the community know about when they think of us.

But when it comes to FAIR, it’s kind of that thing you didn’t know existed. Like it is really helpful, but it’s not for everyone. Not everyone’s going to see the beauty in it. But those that it’s created for, it’s a really useful program. So, we’re kind of like a hidden gem. But small and mighty at the same time.

LENORE: Those are good words. Write those down, Karrionna!

I want to say ditto to everything she said because it’s been my perspective too – the small and mighty.  And that’s exactly what we are – it makes me think of “The Little Engine That Could!”

There’s also that sense of potential and optimism we have centered around that image of ourselves. I think we have to explore how we make sure our footsteps are louder.  Because I think there’s been a tendency to shy away from doing that because there’s been so much development work that’s been the focus.

So, I think it’s really time to make sure within the organization that our footsteps get a little louder and everybody hears us and knows what we’re about. Some of that is the responsibility of the FAIR team – making sure the organizational partners, and our partners within P+P know what we’re about and what we’re doing. And we’ve been trying to make that a little better in this past year, and I think there’s more to do, but I think we’ve made a good start.

CIERITTA: I would say FAIR fulfills P+P’s mission by just creating safe spaces for our customers and being there for them as their accountability partners and through their FAIR bank experience.

LENORE:  Yes, well stated!


Q: What makes your team function successfully together?

CIERITTA:  I would say basically the FAIR team takes on a collaborative approach together. We process our ideas and suggestions as a team and discuss what can benefit or what things we can do to improve the experience for our customers as a whole. So, we work together, taking on a person-centered approach as well.

KARRIONNA:  I think what makes our team work so well together is our leader. First of all, Lenore has a great vision, one that I’ve come to really appreciate, and it’s very much like Cieritta said, very person-centered. She’s always thinking about what our processes, what our emails, what our interactions with our customers feel like in their shoes. And I think that comes from her background, like in human services, health services. But even more than that, she’s definitely created a space where, like Cieritta said, we can share our ideas and really collaborate on what’s not working, and honestly be frank about what’s not working, rather than beating around the bush wasting time.

It’s been great to be supported and know that I’m working for or working under a person who really cares about their customers, rather than trying to get the work done, and that whatever thoughts I have are welcome. So yes, I think that strong vision that she has, definitely has helped us work together. And I think we pulled the lottery with great people! We all have our different strengths, and I think over time we’ve figured out how to appreciate those and how to allow people to really stand in those strengths, and then pick up the piece where they may not be able to.

LENORE: Well, I can’t say I’m always wonderful as all that, but I told Karrionna I know how to hire the right people.

Kathleen (interviewer): Yes, you do!

LENORE: I think that is absolutely the best thing I could do!  I think it is so important, and maybe this is just professional maturity and seasoning, and mistakes made through the years, but what I have learned is to create an authentic space. In our space, we can come together and be authentically ourselves; be genuine, relax, and sit in our own culture, in our own person and be okay in this space.

And that’s been really important to me because when we’re able to do that, we’re also able to do that with our customer base. In this case, we can approach them the same way, we don’t have to pretend that we’re business only. We can listen with an empathetic ear, and we can be present for them. We can be authentic with our customers and that resonates for them, that’s meaningful for them that we’re not the stiff banker over here trying to look like a performer. Right? Because that’s what I don’t want us to do, is just be performance based.

And I hope Prepare + Prosper doesn’t want that either. That’s been the vibe I’ve gotten; I think we’re going to be okay with this.


Q: What strategies do you use to motivate each other and your work?

CIERITTA: I’m going to say we have open communication, and we always give each other feedback, especially when we have our one-on-ones or our weekly group meetings. It’s very beneficial to the team so that means time to discuss whatever comes up or whatever needs to come up at the time.

KARRIONNA:  I’d say the same. I think those one-on-one check-ins we have with Lenore regularly help her to see overall how the team is doing, because she checks in with us so frequently. And I think that example for me has pushed me to be more conscious about checking in with my team outside of those check-ins and outside of our team meetings. Because it’s really important. We all have our bad days and sometimes you only have 80% to give, and the other people need to pick up that 20%.

Additionally, and I don’t know if this was intentional or if it just happened, but there’s this culture where we’re always uplifting each other, always complementing each other, and laughing with each other. And I think that really contributes to our work. Because it makes the environment fun and it’s not just an “I have to come in the office, I’ve got to do my job and then I get to go home” mentality. Instead, I get to check in with people, and I know how they’re doing, and I know they care about how I’m doing at the same time. So, it’s an added bonus when you’re in that workspace, so I really like working!

LENORE: I think part of it is just being human with each other. That’s a big part of it and I really believe that when we work in a team, we have to treat each other like we’re best friends. We have to be there for each other in the down times, and like Karrionna said, it’s about uplifting each other, and even when we’re not down, it’s being able to express to each other how great they are.  I never have to say, “Gee, I didn’t like the way you did that” or “that disappointed me.” I never have to say that. It’s because we focus on our successes, because we know every day we’re going to have disappointments, right? That’s part of the work life.

There’s going to be disappointments every day, that feeling like I could have done that better or I wish I would have done this differently. So, we don’t need to focus on that so much, but we focus a lot on successes and then as a team talk about what we could be doing better, and we don’t necessarily drill down to anybody having to take ownership for what could be done better. Some of it we’ve inherited, some of it is making a whole system better, so nobody has to feel like ‘it’s because of me we gotta make it better.’

I think we’re fortunate, though, because we’re all new enough where we can really not take ownership. We can’t take ownership for all of it. For me the stretch has been this past year because we keep adding new people to the mix and every time you do that, you really have to give it time for them to kind of percolate with it to really feel like they’re a full contributor too.

Kathleen: There are new members of the team, the new navigators, with Shantel, Danyal and Bramira. Lenore, with these new roles, how are you feeling about the team as a whole?

LENORE: Well, I recently switched up how I saw training a little bit and have relied more heavily on our coordinators to take on the mentoring and coaching role with the new members. Laying out a training plan and a general pathway has become more of my role, but making it clear I’m still the supervisor, I’m still the troubleshooter. What if something doesn’t go quite the way we plan or is there something more we could add to the plan, that type of thing. But really relying heavily on them for the training, and I think it’s worked beautifully. I really do.

I think the coach mentor type of training is something the organization should hang on to for FAIR and I think we’ve created a pathway that we didn’t quite plan on, but it turns out, it’s probably the better pathway. And so, with that being said, again we hired the right people, and they are moving along in their training plans at a better pace and a faster pace than I had anticipated. Both the mentors and mentees are way ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point. It’s just gone beautifully. And the mentors, because they spend more time with the mentees than I do, are passing on that team culture, and it’s just a beautiful thing to see.


Q: What are you working on now and how can P+P supporters be helpful?

LENORE: I’ve been told for community awareness, public relations, marketing, and such, because I’ve always worked in either a tribal or a nonprofit sector, that for everything you do, you have to think of three ways you’re getting the message out and to never underestimate, especially in communities of color, never underestimate word of mouth.

And if there’s some way we can relay that or we can support that in our messaging, like “remember to tell your auntie, uncle, cousins!” – that kind of messaging because that is so strong. The community I come from, I might see an ad on TV, but I’m going to ask everybody, “Hey, have any of you done this? Have you tried this?” I’m still going to ask for that opinion, and I think because communities of color are so insular and tightly woven that it means a lot.

KARRIONNA:  One of the things we were working on is narrowing down and redefining what our partnerships with other community organizations look like. And I think that has taken a lot of imagining what or how the FAIR product will work when it’s distributed to other people. And so that’s been fun collaborating with Lenore and Claudia on. So how can P+P supporters be helpful? I think Lenore hit it right on the head, continuing that word of mouth that is so strong in our communities. And then of course, telling other people about the FAIR product and how awesome it is so we can get more people signed up for reliable banking.

LENORE: I think to add to that, the work we’re doing even on the (customer message) templates, for instance, making the whole FAIR Banking thing friendlier for people: friendlier for partners, friendlier for customers, just making it all over friendlier. More like we’re the easy chair in the corner.

So, I think that’s where FAIR is going. That pathway has already been carved out and that’s where FAIR is headed. I think we have a lot of buy-in within the organization for that too. We have buy-in with our partners already for that because we’ve paved the way already in this past year. So it’s exciting. It’s still exciting knowing what can come about.


Lenore Curry is the Economic Inclusion Manager, she started in December 2022. Cieritta Natee is the FAIR Coordinator and started in November 2021, and Karrionna Drain has been the Financial Inclusion Coordinator since May 2023.  Our seasonal FAIR navigators (not interviewed here) are Shantel King, Danyal Dawson, and Bramira Johnson. They all started in September 2023.