Stay Up to Date With Freedom First News
Meet Araceli Arellano, Financial Empowerment Center Counselor
As a financial counselor, Araceli works with clients to help them reach their financial goals, like increasing bad credit scores or creating a budget to save for their first home. “During these difficult times, I can provide clients that are struggling to make ends meet due to job loss or reduced wages as a result of COVID-19 with helpful community resources such as access to CARES funding or assistance for rental or mortgage relief, as well as helping them create budgets and spending plans.” The primary focus of the FEC is to empower clients so they can continue to grow on their own while the counselors help them on their journey.
What Araceli enjoys most about her job is the relationships that are created along the way. “It’s a great feeling when you’ve helped someone reach an important milestone in their life when they’ve felt like it couldn’t be reached. Making them aware of their ability to get out of difficult situations like dealing with creditors or starting and keeping a savings plan, and empower them to make good financial decisions in their lives is a rewarding feeling.” The FEC counselors work diligently with clients to listen to their financial burdens and goals and helping them to create a tailor-made financial plan made specifically for them.
Araceli and her partner have four children, and they enjoy spending time at the pool, doing arts and crafts, and making movies. Araceli also runs her own side business of woodworking and enjoys making business logos out of wood.
Freedom First Credit Union is excited to announce the addition of VaLinda Hayes to the Freedom First Mortgage Team. Hayes joins a team of four Mortgage Loan Officers serving homebuyers in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. “VaLinda has more than fifteen years of experience in the mortgage industry and we are thrilled to have her high-level of commitment on our team,” says Senior Vice President Mortgage Paula Brown.
“I am really excited to be a part of an organization with deep roots in the community,” says Hayes. Hayes was born and raised in the Roanoke Valley and graduated from Radford University, where she studied interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in special education. “As a Roanoke Valley native, I appreciate the value Freedom First places on being local and investing in the well-being of our community.”
Hayes currently lives in Botetourt with her husband and three children. In her spare time, she loves taking a scenic drive, seeking the next great hiking trail, and cheering on her kids in all their sports and activities.
Meet Kathryn Knotts, Financial Education Coordinator
Kathryn Knotts has been with Freedom First for four years. She began working as a Personal Banker in the Call Center, giving her the opportunity to learn more about the credit union and how each department works together to make Freedom First run efficiently.
After hearing Dave Prosser, Senior Vice President Community Development, speak, she knew she wanted to be a part of his department and became a Financial Education Coordinator. In that role, Kathryn coaches Freedom First members accomplish the ultimate goal of long-term financial stability and success. The sessions focus on goal setting, asset building, debt management, credit repair/establishment, spending plans, and banking best practices.
Kathryn is now based out of the Roanoke Financial Empowerment Center (FEC). While her job role hasn’t changed, she is now able to carry the relationships she forms with clients further into multiple sessions, and is able to provide one-on-one counseling to better help educate clients and help them to reach their financial goals. Kathryn says, “The most rewarding part of my job is to experience and share in the excitement of my clients reaching their goals after working so hard to achieve them.”
She enjoys drawing, crafting, and anything that can be done creatively as well as enjoying all that Roanoke has to offer outdoors.
Meet Marlin Reeves, Vice President New River Valley and Roanoke MarketsMarlin Reeves was hired in July 2019 as the Vice President of the Christiansburg branch and after one year at Freedom First, Marlin was promoted to Vice President New River Valley and Roanoke Markets. In his new role, Marlin works alongside of Tabatha Quesenberry and Matt Graybill, managing and overseeing our New River Valley and Roanoke branches.
Meet Keri Garnett, Financial Empowerment Center Manager
Keri Garnett was hired at Freedom First in 2019 as the Financial Empowerment Center Manager. The Roanoke Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) operates through a partnership between the City of Roanoke, Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, Inc., Freedom First Enterprises, and key community organizations to help our communities achieve financial well-being, with the ultimate goal to improve our overall health.
As the FEC manager, Keri works with the FEC counselors to support their work, providing professional, one-on-one financial counseling at no-cost to Roanoke area residents. “A large part of this focuses on continuing education for them, as well as linking them to our community so they can provide and refer our clients to the services that will help them best”, she says.
Keri says the best part of her job is her team. “They’re all bright, dedicated, and fun to work with. They help me grow as a person and a supervisor and I feel proud of the work they’re doing for our community.”
Keri has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and a Master’s degree in Education, focusing on non-traditional/adult education. She is very passionate about alleviating poverty. When Keri is not on the job, you can find her either working on her black belt in karate or enjoying time spent reading, drawing, or painting.
For more information about the Roanoke Financial Empowerment Center please visit RoanokeFEC.org.
Meet Matt Graybill, Vice President Roanoke Market
As the new VP Roanoke Market, Matt works alongside Tabatha Quesenberry and Marlin Reeves overseeing our ten branch locations throughout the Roanoke and New River Valleys. “This new role allows me to provide support to the branch teams and Freedom First members to help ensure stellar service to the footprint we serve,” says Matt.
What he enjoys most about his new job is that he gets to help families grow and succeed financially, as well as getting to know them along the way. It’s this kind of personal service that employees like Matt uphold Freedom First’s mission of “Helping People Prosper – Helping Communities Thrive”.
Matt and his wife Susan are proud parents of two daughters. As a Roanoke native, Matt and his family enjoy taking advantage of all things that Roanoke has to offer as it continues to grow.
Meet Tabatha Quesenberry, Vice President Roanoke Market
Tabatha Quesenberry has been with Freedom First for 11 years. She started out working in Lending Operations as a Title Clerk and it was her responsibility to process all title work and book indirect loans. After working in Lending for 2 years, she was promoted to Personal Banker. She worked at the Salem branch for 8 years and spent the last 2 years as the Vice President of the Tanglewood branch.
Recently, Tabatha was promoted to Vice President Roanoke Market, overseeing the Tanglewood, Salem and Downtown branches. In this role, Tabatha’s primary focus is on employee development, where she spends more time with the employees to help them have an even stronger impact on our member experience. “What I enjoy most about my new role is being able to help others succeed in their own career goals. Watching individuals succeed past what they thought was possible for themselves is very rewarding.”
Tabatha is working with Marlin Reeves, Vice President NRV and Roanoke Markets, and Matt Graybill, Vice President Roanoke Market, to make sure each branch is working efficiently and remain consistent with one another. This helps to provide members consistency in their interactions with different employees at the branch levels.
When Tabatha is not helping members or coaching her employees, you can find her at home with her husband and three children. They have one son and two daughters and enjoy hiking, camping and anything outdoors related.
2018-2019 Community Impact Report
Click here to view our 2018-2019 Community Impact Report.
2019 Annual Report
Click here to view our 2019 Annual Report.
2020 Annual Business Meeting Update
Out of an abundance of caution, our Annual Business Meeting will be held over the phone on Thursday, May 14 at 3 PM. Thank you for those that attended.
2020 Annual Business Meeting
For 2020, the Nominating Committee returned three nominations for the three vacancies on the Board. As a result, there will be no election held and no nominations will be taken from the floor at the 2020 Annual Business Meeting. Please welcome our two Board incumbents, Michelle Davis and Ron Williams, and one new Board member, Shirley Holland.
Credit Unions Top Banks When Serving Members' Financial Well-being
Credit unions are far better than banks at serving their members’ feelings of well-being, according to a recent study from Gallup. According to the research, credit unions appear to be at their best far more often than banks, and the research shows meaningful differences between customers and members regarding perceptions of the financial well-being support their institutions offer.
“Credit unions have built strong member relationships by using a personal approach, thoughtful products and member-centric service models to help members manage their finances -- and 46% of members strongly agree their credit union does,” the report reads. “The credit union business model and member-centric ethic also enhance members' belief that the credit union has its members' best interests at heart. This all adds up to help credit unions create better perceptions of financial well-being support among their customers.
“The feeling credit union members enjoy -- of being cared for and looked after by trusted advisers -- is real. It's not marketing,” it adds.
The gap in perspective is most evident when looking at which statements consumers agree with about the priorities of their institution:
- For “Looks out for my financial well-being,” credit unions scored 25.5%, while banks received only 14.5%;
- For “Understands my financial situation,” 24.6% of respondents said this applied to their credit union, while 15.1% said it applied to their bank;
- For “Has my best interests at heart,” credit unions scored 27.1%, while banks only 14.2%; and
- For “Puts my financial interests above that of the bank,” credit unions scored 18.4% compared with banks’ 8.6%.
Freedom First Announces 2019 Grant Recipients
Freedom First Credit Union is proud to announce the award of $35,000 in community grants to eight local nonprofits in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. “We are pleased to continue our support of our community nonprofits and are proud to partner and fund their new initiatives.” said Dave Prosser, SVP Community Development. The following are the 2019 grant recipients:
Blue Ridge Literacy- $3,000: Grant funds will be used to support their Citizenship Classes in order to achieve a 100% pass rate for learners scheduled to take the citizenship test in 2020. Blue Ridge Literacy will achieve their goal of 100% pass rate by conducting pre- and post-reading assessments to ensure that 100% of learners have a reading level of High Beginning, the minimum level required to understand the test, or higher by the time they take their test.
Boys & Girls Club of SWVA- $5,000: Grant funds will be used to support the Project Learn Program. Project Learn gives Boys and Girls Club members the opportunity for academic success by presenting academic programming at the club to compliment what they are learning in the classroom.
LovABLE Services- $5,000: Grant funding will go towards supporting Chris’s Coffee & Custard, a job training site that will serve the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities by creating opportunities to enhance life, social, communication and vocational skills that will lead to gainful and meaningful employment.
Franklin County Public School Educational Foundation- $5,000: Grant funds will be used to support the Life Check Program, a simulation program to give students an opportunity to look into their future as consumers. For the last 3 years, the Foundation has used Life Check as a culminating activity for economic and finance classes in the Spring. The students in these classes are provide with the necessary knowledge and skills to function effectively as consumers, workers, savers, investors, and entrepreneurs.
Live, Work, Eat, Gather, Inc -- Millstone Kitchen- $5,000: The mission of Live, Work, Eat, Gather, Inc. is to cultivate and nourish community through the support of local food and farms, the creation and growth of jobs, the security of a home, and the gathering of friends and neighbors. Grant funding will support Millstone Kitchen, a shared use commercial kitchen located in the old school center of the Prices Fork Elementary School. Half of the old kindergarten space has been converted into kitchen space rentable hourly by food business entrepreneurs, such as caterers, bakers, value-added farmers and food trucks.
Roanoke Children’s Theatre- $2,000: Roanoke Children’s Theatre launched RCT4TEENS in 2010 as an ongoing health education program using educational theatre to help young people change risky behavior and learn healthy behaviors through issue-based plays that address important health and social concerns. RCT has commissioned THE FAKES, an original play addressing internet safety and addiction and staying safe from online predators and human trafficking. Funding will support educational health outreach for approximately 2,500 – 3,500 middle and high school students who participate in post-show interactive prevention talkbacks with agency professional while identifying resources for ongoing support.
Roanoke Hospitality House- $5,000: The Roanoke Hospitality House will provide adult patients and caregivers traveling to Roanoke for healthcare a compassionate, comfortable alternative to a hospital waiting room or expensive lodging. While away from home and receiving care at Roanoke-area hospitals, patients will be able to focus on healing from illness without the added stress of financial burden. Roanoke Hospitality will use their grant funding to support start-up operational expenses.TAP- $5,000: Grant funding will go towards supporting TAP Sabrina's Place, the region's only secure supervised visitation and safe exchange program. It serves families affected by domestic violence and/or sexual assault by providing a secure facility staffed by off-duty Roanoke City Police Department officers and trained visitation monitors.
Freedom First Announces Richard Fairley as Business Intelligence Manager
Freedom First Credit Union announces the promotion of Richard Fairley to Business Intelligence Manager and founding leader of the new Business Intelligence Division.
“Richard’s skills, knowledge, and understanding of the Credit Union make him the perfect match for the Business Intelligence Manager,” says Senior Vice President of Organizational Development Jennifer Jones. “We are excited to see Richard lead this new department and how it will help Freedom First continue to grow and serve our members in Roanoke and New River Valleys.”
Richard has been with Freedom First since 2014 where he began as an Accounting Clerk. After one year in the Accounting Department, he transitioned into Finance where he has most recently been leading the department as Finance Manager.
“It’s an exciting time for the credit union as we move further into business intelligence,” says Fairley. “Business Intelligence will allow the credit union to understand and serve our members better, allowing faster product development and response time to meet our members’ needs.”
Member Appreciation Day October 17, 2019
Linda Johnson Promoted to Chief Financial Officer Effective March 2020
Freedom First Credit Union announces the appointment of Linda Johnson as Chief Financial Officer effective March 2020. Linda currently serves as SVP Accounting/Finance to the CFO. She will take the place of retiring CFO Keith Rickoff.
Linda joined Freedom First in 2008 and has grown to lead Accounting, Finance and Analytics. She has over 22 years of combined financial management and leadership experience and is a member of the American Society of Women Accountants and the Institute of Managerial Accountants.
Linda serves as Finance Chair and member of the Strategic Planning Committee for the State Children’s Advocacy Center and on the board, Finance Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and Executive Committee of Children’s Trust of Roanoke and the New River Valley. She is a Certified Credit Union Investment Professional and is currently preparing for the Fraud Examiners certification.
Linda has worked diligently to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to meet the challenges of this important role. We wish her the best as Freedom First continues to grow and serve members of the Roanoke and New River Valleys.
Cameron Wells Promoted to VP Community Development Center
Local Impact For Tomorrow (LIFT) Will Empower Holistic Wellness at Fallon Park Elementary in Southeast Roanoke
James McKell Joins Freedom First as General Counsel
“We are excited to bring James on to help us fulfill our vision, and we plan to utilize his expertise to help Freedom First continue our trend of positive growth,” said President and CEO Paul Phillips.
A graduate of Wake Forest University and Duke Law, James earned degrees in Philosophy and Law. James’s community involvement includes the Blue Ridge Legal Services Hotline. James has been living in the Roanoke Valley with his family for the past 9 years.
Steve Hildebrand Promoted to Senior Vice President of Freedom First
Advisory on Capital One Compromise and Cardholder Fraud Education
Freedom First Finances Danville Revitalization Effort
Aligning Capital, Training, & Economic Mobility
Freedom First Credit Union was recently invited to participate in an invite-only Financial Innovations Roundtable event at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. This is an annual event, co-hosted by the Carsey School of Public Policy’s Center for Impact Finance. The purpose was to bring together cross-sector representation to find solutions and provide low-income communities with increased access to capital and financial services. This annual event is billed as a “think tank” and a “think-do tank” that has successfully developed new tools, policies, and practices resulting in millions of dollars being directed into investments in affordable housing, small and minority businesses, community facilities, and other community development efforts.
This year’s theme, “Aligning Capital, Training, and Economic Mobility,” offered an opportunity for experts in community development finance to join a conversation with their peers in workforce development and training. Freedom First's VP Community Development Programs-Tim Cerebe attended and spoke on "Understanding the Workforce Development and Community Development Finance systems". This year’s roundtable supports the two sectors to learn more about each other’s work, examine financial barriers to scaling successful training programs, and discuss opportunities for investments to be made in high-impact businesses and programs. The discussions focused on training and paths to jobs that offer career ladders and economic mobility to low- and moderate-income workers.
Freedom First is honored to be a catalyst at this event.
Freedom First Annual Meeting 2019
Brian Taylor Joins Freedom First
Freedom First is proud to announce that Brian Taylor has joined the credit union as Vice President of Commercial Lending. Taylor has 9 years of experience in various business roles in the financial services industry including Commercial Lending Relationship Officer, Commercial Loan Officer, and various Loan Servicing roles. Taylor brings knowledge of Business/Commercial Credit underwriting and analysis to an already established commercial lending team at Freedom First.
A graduate of Virginia Tech, Taylor earned a degree in Political Science with minors in Real Estate & Music. Brian’s community involvement includes being a Board Member of the Botetourt County Rotary Club, a member of Carilion Children’s Advisory Board, Campaign Ambassador for Goodwill Industries of the Roanoke Valley, a Loan Review Committee Member/Mentor for The Advancement Foundation, and a member of the Botetourt Chamber’s Business Growth Committee.
Freedom First Named Roanoke Chamber of Commerce Large Not-For-Profit of the Year Award 2018
Paula Brown Wins Affiliate of the Year Award 2018
Freedom First Wins CDFI Fund award for 2018
Freedom First Welcomes John Budd, Jr. to the Board of Directors
The Board of Directors wishes to thank Tim Sutphin for 18 years of volunteerism on Freedom First's Board of Directors. We wish him well.
Freedom First Welcomes New Supervisory Committee Members for 2018-2019Freedom First welcomes two new additions to serve a 2018-2019 term on the Supervisory Committee: Ms. Cynthia DiFrancesco, CPA and Ms. Adrienne Sowers. The Credit Union’s Supervisory Committee has the responsibility to ensure that the operations of the Credit Union are carried out in accordance with the Federal Credit Union Act and the rules and regulations of the National Credit Union Administration.
2018 Community Grant Application is OpenFreedom First's Community Grant Application is now open for 2018. If a local organization has a project that supports Community & Household Economy, Health & Human Services, or Arts & Culture, they may be eligible for funding. Living our mission - Helping People Prosper, Helping Communities Thrive.
Freedom First Announces Board of Directors at Annual Meeting
Brent Cochran is a Roanoke native and social entrepreneur committed to developing sustainable solutions through triple-bottom-line business methods. Brent has already served one term on the board and a few months on the Executive Committee. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Business, is an active entrepreneur and business leader, and a millennial. Brent is the Founding Director of LEAP, the Founding Advisor of the Grandin Co-Lab, General Manager of River Rock Climbing Gym, and Co-founder and Director of Community Sourced Capital.
Judith Harrison has had many years in the Credit Union movement on local and state levels and brings almost 40 years of experience serving on the Supervisory and Board of Directors positions. Judith represents the Credit Union well to our employees, members, potential members and the community at large. She is passionately involved in the Mountain View neighborhood preservation and revitalization efforts.
Andrea Garland offers a diverse cultural knowledge and technical expertise to the Board as an immigrant, young professional, and female engineer. After housing, transportation is on average the largest household expense for American families. Andrea has helped shape the way the Credit Union understands transportation, and brings new ideas on how transportation options can benefit members as a member of the Supervisory Committee.
“Our entire board of directors embodies the spirit of community and brings talent, expertise, and energy to help guide Freedom First,” said Paul Phillips, President and CEO. “We are very fortunate to have each of them by our side as we serve our members in the Roanoke and New River Valleys.”
Freedom First Partners With Alzheimer's Association
Freedom First Credit Union in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association of Central and Western Virginia is proud to sponsor "The Crime of the 21st Century: How to Protect Older Adults from Financial Exploitation". This presentation is free and open to the public. Call (800) 272-3900 for information.
The #1 elder abuse issue is financial fraud...and it is growing. Learn how to avoid misuse of assets at this program. Medical, legal, banking, and law enforcement experts will share important information on protecting your resources. A Q&A will follow the panel presentation.
Esteemed Guest Speakers:
Karen A. Roberto, Ph.D, Director of the Institute for Society, Culture & Environment, and
Senior Fellow at the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech. Secondary appointee-Department of Internal
Medicine & Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School
of Medicine. Primary architect of the MetLife Mature Market Institute studies on financial abuse.
Chris Desimone, Attorney, Anderson, Desimone & Green
Susan Drees-Armstrong, MBA, CFE, Special Agent Accountant, Virginia State Police
Sarah Andrews, Chief Operating Officer, Freedom First Credit Union
2 Venues and Dates:
May 15, 2018, 1-2:30 p.m.
South County Library, SOCO Auditorium - Room 155
6303 Merriman Road, Roanoke, VA 24018
May 17, 2018, 1-2:30 p.m.
200 Miller Street, Blacksburg, VA 24060
Senator Mark Warner Visits Freedom First's West End Branch For Credit Union Town Hall
Dave Prosser (SVP — Community Development) and Sarah Andrews (Chief Operating Officer) also spoke with Senator Warner, bringing him up to date on Freedom First's initiatives in Southwest Virginia and the amazing outreach and impact that we have had on our members and communities. The West End Branch, with its community kitchen operated by LEAP for Local Food, is a prime example of what we hope to see in more food and bank deserts in our Valleys.
Freedom First is guided by our mission: Helping People Prosper - Helping Communities Thrive. It was our distinct pleasure to host Senator Warner and the town hall session.
Freedom First St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Shamrock Festival Was a Smash Hit
Freedom First takes great pride in being a part of our communities in various ways. By sponsoring local events and bringing people together we believe that we are accomplishing our mission of Helping People Prosper - Helping Communities Thrive.
You're Invited to the 2018 Annual Meeting on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at the Salem Civic Center
Congratulations to our three new Board members:
- Brent Cochran, Current Board Member
- Judith Ann Harrison, Current Board Member
- Andrea Garland, Current Supervisory Committee Member