August 8, 2014

Roanoke City’s West End now has unprecedented access to a unique hub for financial services, educational opportunities, and healthy lifestyle activities. Freedom First Credit Union’s new
West End branch is open to the community at 1210 Patterson Avenue, SW, following a 12-month construction effort spearheaded by Freedom First, the West End Center for Youth, and the City of Roanoke. Freedom First celebrated the grand opening of the full-service branch on May 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the morning and a community open house in the afternoon. The branch anchors the project that the city is calling West End Village, serving residents and businesses in the West End, Hurt Park, and Mountain View neighborhoods, as well as downtown businesses and commuters from the Raleigh Court/Grandin neighborhoods. In addition to the branch, the site includes an educational meeting space for financial and healthy living seminars, and a permanent pavilion space for the West End Community Market. The branch is open Monday-Friday 9-5, and the market is open Tuesdays from 3-6. The summer schedule for the Education Room includes cooking demonstrations as well as financial education and presentations by Gentiva Home Health. Phase two of the project will include a commercial kitchen to be operated by LEAP for Local Food, the nonprofit that operates the market.

Organizers hope the radical transformation of the former Villa Sorrento property into a vibrant community space will serve as a catalyst for ongoing development in the area.  “It’s been so exciting to watch this project come together,” said Joy Parrish, Executive Director of the West End Center, which owns the property and will oversee its community activities. “There is so much
opportunity to tap into here in the West End, provided that residents and businesses in these neighborhoods have access to the services they need to thrive.”  According to Paul Phillips, president and CEO of Freedom First, the project represents the ways public and private entities can, and should, work together to create positive change. As a designated Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a core mission for Freedom First is to invest in the growth of the areas it serves through providing credit and community development assistance.

“The West End’s commitment to outreach falls directly in line with Freedom First’s goals as a CDFI,” explained Phillips. “We have a responsibility to improve the communities where our
members live, work and play. The West End and surrounding neighborhoods deserve the same access to affordable banking services as everyone. To be able to provide these services while paving the way for other life-improving opportunities is core to our mission.” The new Freedom First branch offers the credit union’s full range of financial services and products, including specialized products that address affordable housing and transportation needs. Many programs are designed to support first-time homebuyers and households that have been underserved by traditional banking institutions. The project was made possible through a combination of CDFI funding and HUD Community Development Block Grant funds from the city of Roanoke nearing $1.2 million. “The investment that Freedom First has made in this neighborhood is admirable, and fundamental to future revitalization efforts,” said Chris Morrill, Roanoke City Manager. “This initiative is a shining example of what can be accomplished through innovative planning and collaboration.”