Credit Union-Sponsored “Makeover” Changes Lives of Mother and Son


Back in 2009, single mom Lisa Timmons was struggling. Employed at a fledgling non-profit organization, her bills were piling up as she worked to put food on the table and provide for her then ten-year-old son, Gabriel.  And she was afraid she might lose her house. Timmons wasn’t happy with her personal life either, as she was carrying a few extra pounds, needed some dental work and her financial situation was a source of major anxiety.  A charming woman with a usually positive demeanor, she took a chance and entered a contest sponsored by local television station CBS-4 called the “Phoenix Project.”  It promised a complete life “makeover” of the body, mind, spirit, finances and more. Timmons won the contest, and her life would never be the same.

Dade County Federal co-sponsored the Phoenix Project, so while local firms offered her new clothes, help with her nutrition and even a new smile, the Credit Union worked with her to get her financial life in order.  Interestingly enough, it turned out that Timmons was an existing Credit Union Member.  Richard D. Gerundo, a financial advisor with Dade County Federal Financial Consulting Services, helped Timmons develop a financial plan that he believed would help get her on track and save her home, but there was one glaring issue: Timmons had not yet saved a dime for Gabriel’s education.  

Gerundo and now-retired Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Marla Ferreira went to George Joseph, President of the Credit Union, with a plea – and a plan.  Aside from offering financial advice, could Dade County Federal also start and contribute to a college fund for Gabriel?  Joseph and the Credit Union Board agreed, and nine years later Gabriel is a thriving freshman at Nova Southeastern University.

We caught up with Gabriel and his mother recently, and she has truly risen from the ashes.

Timmons, still charming but now sporting an infectious smile, has taken full advantage of the hard work done by CBS-4, Dade County Federal and the other sponsors of the Phoenix Project.  She now works for NCL as a guest services specialist, making sure everyone who embarks on an NCL cruise leaves happy and satisfied.  She went back to school, finished her degree in business administration and she aspires to earn a master’s.  And in her spare time, she coordinates volunteer efforts and fundraisers sponsored by the cruise line. She’s grateful to the credit union for helping her organize her budget, and she is now “able to breathe” when dealing with financial matters.  She’s also ecstatic about her son’s education.

Gabriel, now 18, has grown into an impressive young man.  He entered Nova Southeastern on a partial scholarship and with numerous Advanced Placement credits after graduating with honors from Nova High School last June. A natural artist who started drawing at age two, Gabriel is exploring the intersection of design and technology at Nova Southeastern.  He recently changed his major to computer science and hopes to design games or other programs that enable him to put his artistic talents to good use.  Like any mother, Timmons has a gleam in her eye when talking about her son’s talents and dedication, but she also points out a heartwarming reality.

“The Phoenix Project changed my life,” she said. “But with the help of the Credit Union, after college my son is in position to begin his life debt free.”