CULPEPER — For a new kid on the block, the Culpeper branch of the University of Virginia Community Credit Union sure is making friends fast.
That has been apparent in the credit union’s work in the local community since the branch opened in June 2018, and most recently in the top honor that the nonprofit cooperative received from the Culpeper County Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber recognized the member-owned financial enterprise as its 2019 Large Business of the Year.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in a short amount of time,” said David Esworthy, the credit union’s senior vice president for lending and retail delivery.
Esworthy credited Jackie Bowles, manager of the credit union’s Meadowbrook Office, with much of that effort.
A Culpeper County native, Bowles has worked for the series of financial institutions that have occupied the same brick building in the Meadowbrook Shopping Center for 30 years.
Active in the chamber, she volunteers with Culpeper Renaissance Inc. and represents the credit union during Culpeper Business Industry and Education Day and the community’s 3rd Thursday concert series.
The credit union’s local activities and support for community endeavors clearly impressed the chamber’s judges.
To be nominated for the honor it received, a Culpeper business must employ 50 or more people; demonstrate growth, integrity and innovation; and encourage community engagement, volunteerism and workforce development.
2019 was the credit union’s first year participating in the Culpeper Career Fair held at Eastern View High School. More than 1,000 students attended, from the eighth through the 12th grades.
Its highest-profile role may have been as the Stage Sponsor for the town’s outdoor 3rd Thursday concert series held beside the historic railroad depot. From May through August, the summer festival draws about 600 people to each concert. Sponsoring the concert series earned the credit union branch Culpeper Renaissance Inc.’s Partner of the Year award.
The credit union also supports CulpeperFest, the Culpeper Soap Box Derby, the charity Crab Feast and the Free Clinic of Culpeper’s Oyster Fest.
“It’s in our DNA. It comes back to the community in our name,” said Esworthy. “Enriching the lives of our members, and being a strong member of the community, is what we like to do.”
That formula is working, helping the credit union grow from a 1954 meeting of 40 UVa hospital administrators and staff members to become a financial cooperative that has more than 70,000 members and is one of the largest community, not-for-profit credit unions in Central Virginia. It now has nearly $1 billion in assets.
An entity that had its first office in a UVa hospital parking garage now has 14 locations in 10 counties from Louisa and Albemarle up the U.S. 29 corridor to Warrenton. The credit union is open to anyone who lives, works or owns a business in the city of Charlottesville or the counties of Albemarle, Culpeper, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, Orange or Rappahannock.
With Career Partners, the credit union has conducted mock job interviews of Culpeper high school students to help them to prepare for careers after graduation.
Bowles serves on Culpeper Renaissance’s Loan Committee, which supports businesses revitalizing the downtown historic district.
In recent weeks, the Culpeper branch has been serving as a dropoff site for donations of toys and gifts to the Salvation Army.
It also provides scholarships for high school students and has participated in back-to-school events and convocations.
“We were a little surprised things happened that fast,” Esworthy said of the chamber recognition. “I think that speaks to our local team making an impact. That’s real exciting. We are honored to have received the award, having been in the Culpeper community just 18 months or so.”
Improving people’s financial literacy is a major emphasis for the credit union, he said.
Each year, a career event that it holds for 10th-graders in the Charlottesville area helps students to understand how a particular job choice would — or wouldn’t — match their lifestyle hopes, he said.
“As they choose a career, they learn what kind of a job makes that much money,” Esworthy said. “It’s a big eye-opener.”
The program helps students to begin to consider if they’d want to go to college or choose a trade school. Do they want to be an artist, a stockbroker or an electrician? What would be the best career?
“It starts that thinking,” he said. “It makes them think about the next steps.”
Lots of expertise
The credit union also offers financial seminars on topics such as how to handle a car loan, buy a house, manage credit card debt, save for retirement, or plan for Social Security.
Tripp Butler, the Culpeper branch’s senior commercial loan officer, is treasurer of Career Partners Inc. Mortgage Loan Officer Trevor Rollison, a member of the Greater Piedmont Realtors, shares his experience and advice during real estate seminars. Samantha Black, the branch’s community relations specialist, coordinates financial seminars and other educational opportunities.
The co-op’s CU@Work initiative partners with local businesses to help their employees succeed at work and in life.
Credit union staff members arrange with businesses’ human resources departments to provide on-site account signups, as well as advice about financial issues that may stress employees and cause distractions for their company.
Going into a workplace can adjust for employees’ shift changes and build relationships with people, Esworthy said.
The credit union’s breadth of services means it can do everything from helping a first-time buyer obtain a home, to lots more, he said. Its commercial team helps people to grow and start a business. And its wealth management partners help families achieve long-term goals, such as putting children through college or handing down a family business.
Bowles spoke of the satisfaction in seeing people improve their lot and achieve life goals.
“I love helping customers grow through the years, from obtaining their first car loan to taking out their first 30-year mortgage, doing those milestone steps,” the Rixeyville resident said. “I enjoy being the person they come to for advice, who helps them develop.”
She recalled helping one business owner advance from getting started with annual revenue of a few thousand dollars to exceeding the $20 million mark.
Bowles described one family she has helped over the years. The couple became grandparents a few months ago, and now their second child is expecting.
“I’ll be the one to open the [grandchild’s] savings account,” Bowles said. “Stuff like that, I love.”
She also remembered the brutal financial hardships of a few years ago, noting that most people have either lost a job or known someone who did. “There was a lot going on” during the Great Recession that began in 2008, Bowles said with understatement.
“There’s nothing like helping somebody that’s struggling financially to get stable again,” she said. “… That’s what bankers should do.”