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Meet our Board members and learn about our Board committees.

Board members

Jessa Edwards, President

Jessa believes the services and programs offered at Alternatives are particularly important for those in Ithaca who are underserved and marginalized, and giving community members a say in guiding and expanding those offerings is truly vital.

As a resident here since 2006, she has worked variously as library staff, art director, graphic and web designer, and fine artist, and has at different points experienced both financial precarity and relative comfort. Jessa has chaired or been a contributing member of various Cornell University Library committees and working groups, has volunteered as a Greenstar super worker, and is currently dedicating organizing energy to Artist Alley, a growing arts community on South Hill.

Year to year as Jessa has put down deeper roots in Ithaca, she's relished the many idyllic aspects of our little town, but its inequities and complacencies have also become increasingly apparent to her. Jessa is interested in how Alternatives can best reach out to and meaningfully include those communities most often harmed by less scrupulous financial institutions.

Leslie Ackerman, Vice President

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 has 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.

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.” 

Amina Omari, Secretary

I became an Alternatives member in 2005, seeking relief from predatory banking practices. At Alternatives, I found an institution with deep community roots that has supported me through many financial and personal changes.

Especially during this coronavirus crisis, it’s clear that our strength is in each other, and the community we continue to build. As a community, we will have challenging work ahead of us to get through the current crisis, and to rebuild our local economy in an equitable and sustainable way. I believe that Alternatives will be an important part of that process, and I look forward to the opportunity to contribute to its mission in this consequential time.

A bit about me: I worked at Gimme! Coffee for over thirteen years, starting as a barista and growing into the roles of Director of Training, Director of Communications, and finally Chief Operating Officer. As the COO of a small and growing business, I wore every hat (training, marketing, sales, HR, finance, regulatory compliance, product development, and more) and helped to build a mission of community, sustainability, and local collaboration. Since December 2018, I have been directing a new Food Business Incubation Program (FoodBIP), which helps food manufacturers start and grow their businesses, and aims to create economic opportunity for under-served people and communities throughout the region. In this work, I’ve collaborated with a wide variety of entrepreneurs throughout the region, both rural and urban, and I’ve seen first-hand the importance of local credit to building a strong and sustainable community.

Over the years, I have also worked to sustain community organizations. From 2000 through 2011, I served on the Board of the Telluride Association, a nonprofit that creates democratic educational experiences. There, I served on the financial committee that oversaw the Association’s endowments and budgets, and led an effort to improve the diversity of its summer scholarship programs. Presently, I serve on the Board of the Ithaca Shakespeare Company, a local community theatre organization. I bring a systems thinking approach; a strong background in training, facilitation, and mentorship; and a deep commitment to equitable economic opportunity and sustainable community.

Tolkyn Aidarova

I was born in Kazakhstan and moved to Ithaca over 19 years ago. I always admired the work the Alternatives Federal Credit Union has done for the community. I first learned about the organization when I came there to do my taxes. I was impressed with their professionalism and work, which inspired me to join the credit union. I worked at Alternatives for over 12 years. I started as a Data Processor and then became a Consumer Loan Officer for 8 years until I was promoted as Accounting Manager. I believe that my knowledge of the credit union’s lending, member service and accounting would be beneficial to the board. I would love to give back by lending my skills and experience to Alternatives once again.

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. 

Alissa Hull

I am currently an attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS) in Ithaca, providing free legal services to incarcerated New Yorkers. I represent incarcerated people in challenging issues ranging from long-term solitary confinement to inadequate health care in prison.

Before practicing law, I was a founding collective member and adult ally for fourteen years with the Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP) in Chicago. YWEP was a youth-run harm reduction program for youth in the sex trade and street economies. With YWEP, I trained healthcare and social work providers on respectfully working with street-based youth, including transgender youth, and supported youth-run political education and skill building workshops, syringe exchanges, and transformative justice campaigns designed and implemented by young people of color. I also had the privilege and challenge of being on YWEP’s board for nearly a decade, and am thoroughly familiar with the struggle between the nonprofit legal framework and the ideals and passion that drive the work.

I also previously worked as a criminal defense attorney for indigent clients and as a staff attorney with Prison Legal News. I have authored several legal reference books geared towards incarcerated individuals who are litigating their cases without lawyers. I have long been committed to making legal information accessible to people who typically don’t have access to those systems.

Growing up, my family owned and operated a delicatessen in Michigan, and I have a deep understanding of how hard families and employees work to make small businesses run and the obstacles to keeping those businesses open and their workers thriving. I worked every job in my family’s deli, and have also worked as a baker, booking agent, labor union researcher, cashier, city council member’s assistant, and as a waitress. Alternatives made it possible for me and my partner to buy our first ever home last year in Dryden, and I am excited to bring my knowledge of transformative justice politics, nonprofit governance, and a passion for Alternatives’ mission and goals to the Board.

Christopher Teitelbaum

My name is Christopher Teitelbaum. I am an almost native of Ithaca, having arrived via adoption at the age of 7. I graduated from Ithaca College studying Cinema Production and Politics, primarily in a bid to learn how to tell stories. I taught acting at the local Meisner Acting Studio for ten years as an assistant and then co-teacher to the Director and Founder, Eliza Van Cort. I am also a Founder and the Executive Director of the House of Ithaqua, a local theater production group into its second season, soon to be incorporated as an LLC.

My day job as Program Supervisor at St. John's Community Services Homeless Shelter gives me a direct view into the financial struggles of the neediest in Ithaca. Everyday there are hundreds of individuals who fail to enjoy the benefits of being in this wonderful town because they lack the financial knowledge, earning power, and encouragement to engage with financial institutions. I'm hoping that by serving on the Alternatives Board of Directors that I can advocate for those individuals at the heart of the Credit Union’s mission statement. I am also hoping to increase my own working knowledge of the financial tools and systems that so directly impact me and my neighbors.

As a result of many years working in non-profits, from the front lines of addiction treatment as a Supervisor at Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, to managing staff and contracts as the General Manager of Commercial Cleaning at Challenge and now in my position at St. John's, I've come to know that one of the most important aspects of life can be our stories. We all yearn to live and share a singular story, to be someone. I take it to heart that too many of our neighbors lack the financial ability to dream outside their immediate needs, let alone make those dreams a reality. Alternatives is an irreplaceable partner in changing that paradigm and I appreciate the opportunity to be part of that work.

Leonardo Vargas-Méndez

I recently tired as the Executive Director of the Cornell Public Service Center (CPSC), and as such, a member of Cornell University’s Division of Student and Academic Services’ senior management team. I was also Co-Principal Investigator for the Cornell Upward Bound Program and Co-Director of the Faculty Fellows-in-Service learning programs. I served as 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. I was also honored as a Carl L. Becker House Faculty Fellow at Cornell University.

In addition to my Cornell responsibilities, I have 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. I am currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Tompkins Community Action, and also a member of ATTAC International, Chile’s chapter.

My family and I have been a long time members of the Alternatives community and honored to be a senior board member. I believe in the community development mission of the Alternatives and its active advocacy for equity in the distribution of societal wealth and an equitable access to bank services.

Board committees

Operations Committee

Monitors issues and discusses strategies to deliver efficient, high-quality member service, whether in-branch, mobile, online, ATM, or any other medium.

Lending Committee

Members of the Lending 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 Lending Committee is being able to work towards creating products that help underserved people: being true to our mission. 

External Relationships Committee

The External Relationships Committee is responsible for all program and marketing activities, and sourcing community members and organizations to collaborate with Alternatives and for potential Board/Committee members.

Finance Committee

The Finance Committee reviews budgets, audit, capital expenditures, delinquency, collection, investments, and financial statements. 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. 

Technology Committee

The Technology Committee is responsible for addressing all technology needs of the credit union, and is expected to research and optimize the internal and member-facing aspects of Alternatives' technology systems.

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.

Contact:

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

ALCO

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

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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