Freedom First Wins 2015 Wells Fargo NEXT Opportunity Award

September 17, 2015

Freedom First Credit Union (FFCU), a Roanoke-based community development financial institution (CDFI), has won a $1.725 million Wells Fargo NEXT Opportunity Award to expand its low-cost workforce development loan program.

The workforce development loan program serves those who reside in high-poverty, high-unemployment-rate areas of urban and rural southwestern Virginia. Piloted in partnership with a Roanoke-based tractor-trailer training program, this loan program addresses the unmet need of financing educational programs that lead to certifications and licensures. Once an individual joins Freedom First through this loan program, they can develop asset-building skills and habits including repairing and improving their credit while working toward financial security.

The credit union plans to expand this product into more industries, including healthcare and welding, and widening the existing pipeline of students by partnering with non-profits in the Roanoke area.   

Freedom First’s mission is to Help our Members Prosper - Help our Communities Thrive. Serving Virginia’s Roanoke and New River Valleys with nine branches, nearly 50,000 members, and $383 million in assets, Freedom First fulfills its mission by enacting its core values of social responsibility, integrity, respect, accountability, collaboration, and innovation.

“Freedom First is pleased to be able to expand our very successful workforce development program,” said Paul Phillips, President and CEO of Freedom First Credit Union. “The NEXT Opportunity Award funds will allow us to offer $1.5 million in loans over the next three years; ultimately helping 500 people in southwest Virginia secure a job with sustainable workforce skills.”

The Wells Fargo NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance celebrate the CDFI industry—its creativity, accomplishments, and enduring importance.  Launched in 2007, the NEXT Awards have celebrated the innovation of the nation’s most promising CDFIs by awarding more than $58 million through a competitive awards process over the last seven years.

In addition to FFCU, the 2015 NEXT Opportunity Awards recognize Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union and Sunrise Banks for their innovative consumer financial products and services.  

“This year’s NEXT Awardees represent the future of opportunity finance and innovation in responsible banking,” said Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), the nation’s premier CDFI network. “Freedom First’s loan expansion and financial services offerings can serve as a model for other workforce loan programs in communities across the country.”

OFN presents the NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance  in partnership with Wells Fargo and Prudential and support from the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.

For more information visit NEXTawards.org.

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About the Groups behind the Awards

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.7 trillion in assets. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through 8,700 locations, more than 12,500 ATMs, the internet (wellsfargo.com) and mobile banking, and has offices in 36 countries to support customers who conduct business in the global economy. With approximately 266,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 30 on Fortune’s 2015 rankings of America’s largest corporations. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. Wells Fargo perspectives are also available at Wells Fargo Blogs and Wells Fargo Stories.

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader with more than $1 trillion of assets under management as of December 31, 2014, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. MacArthur has been a leading supporter of the Opportunity Finance field since the early 1980s, investing nearly $250 million in approximately 100 groups nationwide. More information is available at: www.macfound.org.

The Kresge Foundation is a $3 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development efforts in Detroit. In 2013, the Board of Trustees approved 316 awards totaling $122 million; $128 million was paid out to grantees over the course of the year. In addition, our Social Investment Practice made commitments totaling $17.7 million in 2013. For more information, visit kresge.org.

Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), the leading network of private financial institutions, creates growth that is good for communities, investors, individuals, and the economy. Members of OFN are community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that deliver responsible lending to help low-wealth and low-income communities join the economic mainstream. Through 2013 OFN's network originated $34 billion in financing in urban, rural, and Native American communities. This financing has helped to create or maintain more than 720,000 jobs, start or expand nearly 120,000 businesses and microenterprises, and support the development or rehabilitation of nearly 1.5 million housing units and 9,500 community facility projects. For more information visit ofn.org.