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Meet our Board members and learn about our Board committees.

Board members

Ariana Blossom, President

Ariana Blossom coaches small to mid-sized business leaders and co-founders. She helps her clients develop business strategy, reduce miscommunication and interpersonal conflict, and decrease fear while making important decisions. Her business Blossom Coaching, LLC was started in 2010 and has served many non-profit, for-profit, and academic leaders in Tompkins County. 

Michael McNeil, Vice President

Michael is honored to support the outstanding staff and volunteers at Alternatives.

 A lawyer who works primarily in entertainment, intellectual property, and technology, Michael was raised in Ithaca and attended East Hill school, the Lehman Alternative Community School, and Ithaca College before moving away to attend law school.

 Michael’s entertainment work has involved him in many well-known films (such as the Hobbit trilogy, Jungle Book, the Planet of the Apes series, Avatar, the Lord of the Ringstrilogy, etc.) and TV projects. His tech/IP work is typically focused on software or hi-tech issues such as business formation, IP ownership and protection, licensing, commercialization, etc. His clients are from around the world and range in size from a single creator or inventor just getting started to companies with thousands of people working for them.

 He has also serves as an arbitrator for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, determining business and financial disputes, and has been a consultant on economic development (particularly entrepreneurship) in both in the United States and overseas.

 He strongly believes in the positive effect of providing economic power to the underserved and is particularly interested in the positive effect of local and/or small-scale finance and entrepreneurship.

Jim Fravil, Treasurer

Jim has considered it a privilege to serve as a director since 1996 with some of the most caring and concerned people for social and economic justice in very troubling times. Over this time along with excellent employees and board members we have taken on some large economic issues before it was fashionable and positioned the credit union for addressing those issues. In recent times the  credit union has become much more risk adverse which is probably appropriate as it has grown to a size where there is now much more to lose. The most difficult external issue is who we look to serve. Where we once looked to the underserved population, Jim now thinks this group is being served much better than previously by the likes of Wal-Mart and other mass marketers who have many low income people as a captive audience and we cannot compete with on a price or convenience basis. The area that needs attention is the unbanked and more desperately the newly unbankable, a group created by our fiscal meltdown burdened with unpaid debts and judgments and marginally or totally unemployed operating in the cash world and underground economy. The long term effect on them and their children and the community is easily seen from Jim’s front door. Poverty does not hide well in the rural areas to which he is accustomed. These people need a path to come back to our world. Jim believes, “We do need to recapture a little of the ‘fire in the belly’ for such issues while continuing our current initiatives.”

He and his wife have lived and farmed in Lodi since 1980.  He was previously a commercial bank officer and Commercial and Agriculture lending officer in what was a small locally owned bank and have an excellent working knowledge of bank operation, accounting and regulatory issues. They have been credit union members since 1983.

Says Jim, “Selfishly I love the credit union or more appropriately its people.” 

Ashley Cake, Secretary

Ashley was born and raised in Ithaca and has been a member of Alternatives since 2010. Her first job was as a cashier at the Hancock St. P&C during high school. She went away for undergraduate and graduate study at the University of Toronto, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and finally Syracuse University, attaining advanced degrees in European Philosophy, Gender Studies, and Comparative Religion.

Returning to Ithaca in 2006, Ashley worked for Gimme! Coffee, Madeline’s Restaurant, The Shop Cafe, Coltivare, Mercato Bar & Kitchen, and Bar Argos. In 2016 she opened The Watershed bar with her three business partners, incorporating as GDAM Industries, Inc. The Watershed is thriving in the new year, creating eight living wage jobs and striving to meet ambitious service, environmental, and social justice goals every day.

Ashley is deeply invested in socially responsible growth in the Ithaca business community and particularly interested in the Alternatives mission to build wealth among low-income folks and families in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Brian DeYoung

Brian has been a Credit Union member since 1984, when he lived in California, and a long term member of Alternatives FCU.  He have an extensive professional background in real estate, housing, construction and related fields. He has a long time personal background of community service, including eight years as a volunteer at Willard Drug Treatment Center. He believes the Credit Union has many beneficial programs that he hopes to help spread the word about as well as build the member base. Real Estate is a large economic force, and he believes his lifetime background of building, designing, and selling homes makes him an asset to the board. 

Leonardo Vargas-Méndez

Leonardo is the Executive Director of the Cornell Public Service Center (CPSC), and as such, is a member of Cornell University’s Division of Student and Academic Services’ senior management team. Leonardo is Co-Principal Investigator for the Cornell Upward Bound Program and is Co-Director of the Faculty Fellows-in-Service learning programs. He is Cornell University’s liaison to the New York Campus Compact Advisory Board, and a member of the founding Board of this statewide higher education membership institution. He is also a Carl L. Becker House Faculty Fellow at Cornell University.   

In addition to his Cornell responsibilities, Leonardo has served on the boards of many Tompkins County non-profit agencies and governmental committees, including the Board of Trustees of the Tompkins County Public Library; the Founding Board of the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County Inc.; the Ithaca Alliance for Community Empowerment; the Advisory Board of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service of Tompkins County; the Tompkins County Workers Rights Center; the Board of the Tompkins County Human Services Coalition; the City of Ithaca’s Board of Public Works; and the Board of Planning and Development; the Board of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission; and the Board of Planned Parenthood of Tompkins County. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Tompkins Community Action, and also a member of ATTAC International, Chile’s chapter.  

Leonardo enjoys being a Board member for Alternatives on many levels, and he and his family have been Alternatives members for many years.  

Kenneth McLaurin

Kenneth McLaurin Jr. graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a Liberal Arts Degree. He spent 12 years internationally leading community-based programs focused on servicing a wide range of needs for individuals, families, and communities. He has been a part of our Ithaca community since 2011, and served as the Interim Executive Director of Southside Community Center. Currently he is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension as a Financial Management Educator.

Kenneth's passion is comedy; by speaking truth to power, Kenneth uses humor and his platform as a prominent local comedian to bring social injustice to the forefront, making people laugh, as well as think. Kenneth, performs throughout New York from comedy clubs to colleges to conferences, highlighting social inequality, racial divisions, and the common human experiences that bring us together. His day job may be at Cooperative Extension where he preaches financial education and wellness to marginalized communities, but his real passion is making people laugh about the situations were we so often argue.

Robert Brown

Rob has lived in Tompkins County, mostly its rural Towns, since the early 1990s and settled in northern Lansing in 2003. Through his work at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, Rob has had the privilege of being part of a movement that champions a Living Wage for everyone and the right to dignity at work, free from unfair or illegal treatment. In addition to his direct work in labor rights advocacy, grassroots organizing, and helping folks ensure their rights are enforced when violated, Rob has expertise in non-profit administration, financial management, and development. Some of his other community commitments have included helping provide free care and accessible health education to people without health insurance and providing financial health services for folks struggling with healthcare debt; helping economically marginalized entrepreneurs get their businesses going; and advocating for ecologically sustainable agriculture. Outside administration and finance, Rob's professional life has spanned bicycle mechanics, clinical herbalism, fund-raising, landscaping, research, and waste hauling. Throughout it all, he  has always been devoted to civil rights activism.

Rob believes that community institutions must be accountable and responsive to the people they serve, and that empowerment of and service to people most marginalized by society is the most important work one can do. Rob believes Alternatives’ special role as a community development financial institution uniquely positions it to contribute to this work in our community, which is why he has been a member for years, serves on the Human Resources Committee of the Alternatives Board, and has chosen to deepen his involvement through service on the Board of Directors.

Arthur Fives

Arthur believes fair, non-predatory lending is the essence of what credit unions do, and that Alternatives does it well, providing access to credit where other lenders refuse or overcharge. Alternatives is here to help community members leverage credit to better their situations. Arthur knows firsthand how important innovative loan policies are to provide greater access, so people may improve their credit scores, start businesses, or build assets. 

After working in carpentry and construction, Arthur went back to school and received a BA in Environmental Science from Binghamton University in 1997. He has been employed by Cornell since 1999 as a construction manager or project manager for very large construction projects. Also, he co-owns East Coast Malts in Freeville since its founding it in 2012, and is the Head Maltster, providing quality craft malts to local brewers and distillers. 

Arthur supports Alternatives’ cooperative work culture, open communication, and transparency. He believes that Alternatives is a special place to work, bank, and volunteer.

Karl Kayser

Karl Kayser has been a member of the Alternatives since 1986. 

Karl was born in New York City, raised in upstate New York, came to Ithaca in 1968 and graduated from Cornell in 1972. The joys of his life are his three daughters and three grandchildren.

In his working life Karl has been a freelance photographer and printer from 1972-1974, publisher of the Grapevine Press and Finger Lakes Magazine 1973-1993, Small Business Consultant for disabled individuals 1993-2003, Owner-Manager of Kayser Properties, Inc. 2003-2018.

Being a small business owner in Ithaca for almost 45 years has been an incredible, rewarding, working experience for him, but not without trials and tribulations. Finding working capital, maintaining positive cash flow, building employee morale, financing the growth of sales and having a good family life are just a few of the daily concerns of small business owners like Karl.  

Karl believes whether you’re young or old, from Ithaca or Timbuktu, a little daring and passionate about an idea that you think would sell in the marketplace and are willing to take the time to learn the skills and “Business CENTS” to run a small business, Alternatives has the resources and the people to make that idea a reality.

Karl has taken advantage of Alternatives’ innovative products and services, and hopes to help others do the same.

Leslie Ackerman

Leslie was employed at Alternatives from 2002 to 2015 in the Business CENTS small business education program, for 10 of those years as the program’s director. During that time, she worked with thousands of entrepreneurial clients from our community, both Alternatives members and non-members. She have been deeply engaged first-hand with Alternatives’ Community Programs and have an intimate understanding of how they impact lives and further our mission.

It was this mission that motivated Leslie to join Alternatives in 2000, when she began her own microenterprise and sought a financial  institution that matched her values. When she joined the staff two years later, she knew she had found a “home” to stay for a long while. In 13 years on the staff, Leslie had the great opportunity to collaborate with amazing, devoted colleagues who who put real heart into their work.

Leslie left her position at Alternatives in December 2015 to pursue her own private practice coaching and consulting small businesses. She has remained deeply involved in community matters of building a sustainable and just economy, serving on the Economic Development committee of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency since 2010 and co-founding Local First Ithaca in 2008, among other activities.

Board committees

Human Resources Committee

Makes recommendations to the Board on such personnel matters as the merit raise matrix – which must be adjusted relative to changes in asset size – the annual employee engagement survey, and other issues that pertain to staff. 

Member Experience Committee

Monitors issues and discusses strategies to deliver efficient, high-quality member service. The Member Experience Committee focuses on two parts of Alternatives' Strategic Plan: "making members lives easier" and "more members, more products, more services."

Loan Policy Committee

Members of the Loan Policy Committee review and propose changes to loan policies and make recommendations for new programs. They review and discuss monthly lending activity, trends, and changes. The value of serving on the Loan Policy Committee is being able to work towards creating products that help underserved people: being true to our mission. It is rewarding to see the impact our work has in the community. We see our members become homeowners at after other lenders have been unable to provide financial solutions. We see small businesses open their doors and enrich our community. We watch members on the Credit Path work to establish credit, borrow for a car, and eventually become homeowners.

Community Relations and Evaluation Committee

The Community Relations and Evaluation Committee was renamed and reframed in 2016. Directors from the Alternatives Group boards and community members with evaluation expertise review the Credit Union’s proposed evaluation initiatives, asking key questions and making recommendations.

Finance Committee

The Finance Committee reviews budgets, audit, capital expenditures, delinquency, collection, investments, and financial statements. There is nothing that is more important for a credit union than to ensure that its operations are financially sound. The Finance Committee works closely with Alternatives' top-notch staff to review financial trends, develop policies and oversee how the credit union's funds are invested and spent. A lot of this work directly affects the ability of Alternatives to meet its core mission of helping everyone take better control of their financial futures. The members of the Finance Committee help prioritize how and where Alternatives' resources are spent. These decisions directly affect the programs and services offered by Alternatives, and ultimately, its members.

Supervisory Committee

Alternatives Federal Credit Union bylaws mandate the establishment of a Supervisory Committee to oversee internal audit functions. The responsibility of the committee is to ensure the financial safety and soundness of the credit union on behalf of the credit union's members. This committee performs one of the most important jobs associated with the credit union. The Supervisory Committee has two general goals: 

  1. Ensure management's financial reporting presents a fair and accurate picture of the Credit Union's condition.
  2. Ensure management practices, and procedures safeguard member's assets.

The primary tool used by the Supervisory Committee to accomplish its goals is hiring external auditors to perform an annual audit of the credit union's finances and accounting controls. Each year the committee solicits bids from, then hires an accounting firm or other qualified auditing organization. The committee also reviews internal controls, audit and Federal examination findings, and follows up on recommendations made during the audit and examination. Supervisory Committee members are volunteers, appointed by the board of directors. A committee member must be a member of the credit union and be bondable by the credit union's bonding company. Accounting or bookkeeping experience is not required, though it would be helpful in carrying out the mission of the committee.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about your account or the credit union’s operations, you should first contact the credit union directly. However, in the unlikely event you are not satisfied with the response, you can appeal the matter to the Supervisory Committee, which will conduct an additional review.


Alternatives FCU Supervisory Committee 
PO Box 462 
Ithaca, NY 14851

Note: Please use this address for Supervisory Committee correspondence only. Do notsend deposits, loan payments, regular mail, etc. to this address


The Assets Liability Committee (ALCO) conducts quarterly reviews of the credit union’s asset to liability ratio, monitoring risk and capital structure.

Governance Committee

Document board policies and procedures, board assessment, conflict resolution, and training for new and veteran board members. Screen and nominate volunteers to fill board mid-term vacancies to be appointed by the full board.

Nominating Committee

Recruits and nominates a field of candidates for election to Alternatives Board of Directors, to be voted on by Alternatives’ general membership on an annual basis. Three-year board terms are staggered, with approximately three or four seats elected each year, plus any vacancies filled by nomination in the current cycle. It is the goal of the Nominating Committee to promote contested elections and nominate about 40% more candidates than seats up for election

CEO Evaluation Committee

Convened to conduct a performance evaluation of the CEO.

Executive Committee

Convened to handle situations that arise between board meetings.

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