Living in an age with banking corporations, it is nice to know that personal service is still available in Marianna. Not only does Valena and her staff provide personal service, they care about their members. The Jackson County Teachers Credit Union was created in 1954 to support Jackson County educators. Later they added Chipola College teachers, followed by the Board of County Commissioners’ employees and families. Three years ago membership became open to anyone who works or lives in Jackson County. In July 2018 the Jackson County Teachers Credit Union merged with Sunland Credit Union.
Valena Alexander and Christy Bloechl took a little time out of their day to share about their organization. After five minutes with these ladies we became the best of friends. Valena was born and raised in Grand Ridge and attended Chipola College. She married Craig Alexander and has three children. She has been working in finance since 1995 with the last ten years at the credit union. Since July 2015 Valena has held the position of CEO.
Christy Bloechl was also born and raised in Grand Ridge. In fact, she graduated with Valena. After attending Chipola College, she married Jeff Bloechl and they have one son. Christy and her family now live in Graceville. Christy’s background includes twenty years in health care marketing. Christy has been a member of Jackson County Teachers Credit Union all of her life, but it was not until April 2017 that Christy started working at the credit union in the position of Members Relation Partner, which she explained to be marketing and public relations.
According to Valena, credit unions do not have customers, but members. Credit unions are not for profit organizations with no paid board members or investors. Earnings are used to pay extra dividends, higher savings and CD rates. That is how credit unions return profits to the members. They love their employees and providing customer service. “We don’t have recordings on our phones and we have real people in the drive through to help our members,” Christy explained. “There are always local people available when you walk in the door,” she added. “We have moved forward with technology, but value our members and give them special attention with a staff of employees who are cross-trained,” Valena continued.
“In 2008 when the market hit bottom, there were no losses and no credit unions bailed out,” Valena explained. “Everything carried on as usual.” According to Christy, the staff at Jackson County Teachers Credit Union has always been careful to make good decisions for their members. In fact the organization has never changed their name or been bought out or sold. “We are the only one that hasn’t been bought out in the area and is steady and firm,” Valena stated.
“We are like the ‘Cheers’ of credit unions, because ‘everybody knows your name’ and recognizes members,” she continued. According to Valena, the average employee has been working for the organization for at least 15 years. There is very little turnover.
“Our rates are competitive,” Christy added. The organization offers online banking, a mobile app, bill pay, teller line, debit cards, ATM cards, gift cards, CDs, checks, payroll deduction, direct deposit, loans, credit cards and much more. “We use our profits to serve our members and community,” Valena explained. One of their special programs involves financial literacy being taught to seniors, students and groups free of charge. The organization is active in the school system and helps during disasters.
Oct. 8, 2018, the Jackson County Teachers Credit Union was closed for Columbus Day, but Valena was working behind the scenes, sending out mass texts to her employees advising them to prepare their homes and families for the storm. Valena’s team worked late on Tuesday to ensure the members were able to access their funds. Following Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, Valena contacted Jared Ross with the League of Southeastern Credit Unions to send updates and request he help her update the Office of Financial Regulations. The following day, at 8 a.m., Valena was able to cut her way out so that she could check on the credit union. According to Valena, an hour drive took about six hours and there was “mass devastation surrounding us every mile we drove.” Although there was minimal roof damage, trees and power lines were down. Once she regained cell phone reception, Valena checked on her employees. “Four of the eight had major home damage, with one employee losing her home,” Valena shared. However, all were safe and healthy. The following day, Valena and her husband cleaned the property, including removing large oak trees that required a crane.
On Monday, Oct. 15, all the employees reported to work. In fact, for 14 days the credit union was without power and continued to operate under the shelter over the drive-through lanes. Tellers inside the building would hand crank money through the drive-through drawers for safety. The following day Valena went to Chipley Wal-Mart and purchased supplies to hand out to their members. The staff at Jackson County Teachers Credit Union provided backpacks of nonperishable foods, ice tea, snacks and bug spray every day to their members. Valena shared, “Each time I heard the thankful comments I just simply responded ‘it is amazing what eight hard-headed country girls can get accomplished,’ each member knowing our tenacity and work ethic, could do nothing but agree.” Oct. 19 the members were provided with a hotdog cookout with chips, cookies and cold drinks. As if that wasn’t enough, the employees at Jackson County Credit Union delivered approximately 50 meals to a neighborhood that had been hit particularly hard. According to Valena, the area included “a grandmother who was keeping 13 of her grandchildren.” Then, they delivered meals to a local clinic that was overrun with patients. Thirteen days after Hurricane Michael, the Jackson County Teachers Credit Union had electricity. The following day, Internet was restored. Now all Wi-Fi capabilities and computers are operating normally. New telephones have been installed.
The eight women working at the Jackson County Teachers Credit Union were recognized in an article written by Jim Nussle, president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association, for their tenacity and willingness to keep operations open and help others with smiles on their faces, while they had storm damage at their homes.
Valena shared, “In years past we have always treated our members to a barbecue each October to celebrate International Credit Union Day, but this year we will be joining with the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Marianna at Citizens Lodge for a year of recovery since Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.” The Jackson County Teachers Credit Union will be sponsoring the musical entertainment, face painting, bouncy houses, obstacle course and cold bottled water for the event, all of which are free to the public. Stop by their tent for other goodies on that night.
To join Jackson County Teachers Credit Union, all you need is a Social Security card, driver’s license and $5. That gives you a membership share, or an opportunity to be part of the Jackson County Teachers Credit Union family. Call Christy and Valena at 850-526-4470 or visit Jackson County Teachers Credit Union Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. What a great organization to have in Marianna! Visit the City of Marianna’s website at http://www.mariannafl.city/335/New-Businesses-and-Other-Community-News to learn more about businesses in Marianna.
Kay Dennis, MBA, MPA, A.I.C.P., is the director of Municipal Development for the City of Marianna.