Month: June 2014

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Elvia Buendia grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. As the youngest of 6 children, she was raised in a protective, loving, moderate-income family. She had a passion for desserts which stemmed from spending time in the kitchen with her mother who would use farm-fresh ingredients to whip up delicious homemade pastries and cakes.

Elvia studied computer programming for three years and then got married. After a few years, she and her husband decided that they wanted their family to have more opportunities and moved to San Francisco.

Elvia thought that she would be able to stay at home with her children and work from home as a computer programmer. She found it hard to find stable work and decided that it would be better to focus on raising her children.  One day, her son asked her what she loved to do most, she answered: “Baking.”

And that’s when everything changed.

The first cake Elvia made for her family afterwards didn’t turn out well because she mixed up using Celsius and Fahrenheit cooking temperatures in the recipe.

“ I remember dumping the cake out on the the plate and it fell with a thump. My son then exclaimed, ‘Look, Mommy made a tire!’” she recalls, with a laugh.

After that, Elvia signed up for cake decorating and baking classes as a hobby. Once she began taking her cakes to friends and parties, people wanted her to bake them cakes as well.

“That’s when I thought, oh I can start a business!” Elvia says.

But starting a business was not simple. Elvia had a lot of debt at the time but after coming to Mission Asset Fund for help, she was encouraged to apply for a microloan. She used the $5000 loan to invest in a fridge, business license and a number of necessities to grow her bakery, La Luna Cupcakes.

MAF_event_005Baking homemade desserts may seem like a luxury to most people, but for Elvia, it’s an essential part of her day and something she believes anyone can do if they truly enjoy it.

She believes in using fresh, natural ingredients for her cupcakes and cake pops just the way her mother taught her.

Red velvet, mocha chocolate, honeymoon cranberry orange, are just a few of the delicious flavors Elvia offers. La Luna Cupcakes started as online orders only and worked out of the La Cocina incubator. Elvia would deliver the orders and cater special events herself.

In 2013, La Luna Cupcakes was able to move into a physical store in the Crocker Galleria in downtown San Francisco. Elvia also has hired 4 employees to work with her, including her husband who joined last December!

MAF_event_006Elvia’s life is very different from what she dreamed of.

Running a business can be stressful financially with the challenges of sales and promotion, but she says she has a simple and easy life. She’s been married for 25 years and has two kids- a 22-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. Even after all these years, her favorite thing to do is open the oven and smell the fresh cupcakes.

“It makes me think of all the time I spent with my mother in her kitchen,” Elvia says with a smile.

This December, Elvia will have paid off her loan and looks forward to expanding La Luna Cupcakes. Her goal is to open up stores in two more locations and she cites her children as her motivation to continue her business.

“I always taught them if you want something, you can do it! Believe in your dream!”


 

NesimaNesima Aberra is the Marketing Associate and New Sector Fellow at Mission Asset Fund. She loves storytelling, social good and a good cup of tea. You can reach her at [email protected].

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Carmen Chan recently joined the MAF team as an Outreach Fellow through the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs’ DREAMSF Fellowship. The DREAMSF Fellowship is an opportunity for DACA-approved youth to serve San Francisco’s immigrant communities while gaining valuable professional experience and training. We’re excited to have Carmen work with us and want to share a little bit about her through an interview!

1.What inspired you to apply to the Dream SF Fellowship?

I was looking for something to do over the summer and then my academic adviser send me an email about the Dream SF Fellowship. I also wanted to do something for the undocumented community because I wanted to find out what kind of a leader I can be. I applied and I was accepted!

2. Tell us a little about yourself.10341617_676899949025195_6366268047154649102_n

I was born and raised in Venezuela. I just graduated from San Francisco State University double majoring in History and Spanish. I attended Everett Middle School and Galileo High School in San Francisco. I came to San Francisco when I was 12 years old with my parents. My parents stayed for one week and they decided to leave me and my sister in the care of my uncle.  It was difficult for me, because I had to start over again. I wanted to stay in my country, because the majority of my family members and friends lived there.

I considered myself a person of two worlds because growing up the Chinese culture was in my surroundings and once I went to school, the Venezuelan culture was very prominent.  At home, my parents spoke Chinese to me and the customs and religion were very important growing. For example, on Chinese New Year my mom would wake up early and start preparing food. My favorite thing was waking up and smelling my mom’s cooking, the red envelopes, and the fireworks. Also, the Venezuelan culture was very prominent because I spend a lot of time in my neighbors’ houses. I remembered eating Arepas, Cachapas, and Sancocho. At school, I played with kids from the barrio. I also learned a lot of Venezuelan street slang.

Venezuela is always in turmoil. My country is divided still even today.  I remember when I was a kid I missed school a lot due to protests and confrontations between the Hugo Chavez party and the opposition. My parents thought that the best option was to come to America, study and improve my education. The political situation right now is worse than when I left. My parents do not even have toilet paper to use or chicken to eat. I feel really bad about how the country is right now.

3. What are some activities or projects you’ve been involved with that you are really proud of?

When I was an intern at Pact, Inc, I helped an Asian student with her financial aid. By doing that I found out that she was AB540 and she was so surprised because her parents did not tell her about her status.  AB540 was an assembly bill that was passed in 2001, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition fees. Many undocumented students refer themselves as AB540 to specify their status.

The student reminded me a lot of myself because my parents also didn’t tell me that I was undocumented. I found out about my status in high school, when my high school counselor told me that I did not qualify for FAFSA. My counselor did not know what to do with my situation because I was probably the first undocumented student she knew at that time.

The next day, the student came and told me that she didn’t want to attend to college because it was too expensive. I told her that there were many ways to get help like through scholarships. I kept encouraging her to apply for all the scholarships available and she did. When I found out that she got a four year scholarship to attend City College, I was so happy for her. I still keep in touch with her on Facebook.

4. Why were you interested in working at MAF as an Outreach Fellow?

Having the work permit has been an eye opening experience for me. I made mistakes and I learned some important big lessons. For example, filing taxes was so confusing and I made some mistakes in my W-4. I didn’t know why the IRS needed to take money out of my paycheck.  Some of my undocumented friends started to talk to me about signing up for credit cards, because it was important to start building a credit score. I was lost and little confused. The reason I wanted to join MAF is because I want to provide that support and guidance for many undocumented youth about their finances.

5. What are you looking forward to doing during your fellowship?

I am looking forward to learning many skills, especially in outreach, because I believe outreach is a powerful tool that can influence and empower the community that we serve. Also, networking and building connections.

6. What are some of your goals in the next five years?

I hope in 5 years to have a job that I enjoy, especially working with youth or the low-income communities in the Bay Area. I hope in 5 years I have the possibility to bring my parents to live here with me. I haven’t see my mother for about 10 years and I really miss her.

7. What are your hopes for the Dreamer community and undocumented Americans?

I hope that soon we have immigration reform that will benefit everyone equally, a reform that will benefit not only the youth, but the hardworking parents. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has so many limitations, such as you have to have come to the US before age 16 and you have to be under 31 as of June 15, 2012, so it does not benefit every Dreamer. One of my closest friends could not apply for Deferred Action because she came here in July of 2007 but to qualify you must have been residing in the U.S since June 2007. Because of one month difference, she couldn’t apply for the Deferred Action.

We can’t give up now. There is still hope. It is never too late to fight for our dreams. We are not alone in this fight. Our struggles make us stronger and make us who we are.

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Sarah Peet is a passionate photographer who specializes in destination wedding photography and originally from Vermont. She captured the stories of our Lending Circles members and staff for our new website and we’re thrilled to share the story behind her great work!

What do you feel is the best way to approach storytelling through photography?

Having true compassion and interacting honestly with the subjects is a great way to share their stories. I feel it is best to know as much information about the people you are photographing before you take the images. It is nice to know their history and the emotions they are feeling.  I think making people feel comfortable with you always evokes genuine and telling images. Also really encouraging them to relax seems to be a good way to let them forget they are being photographed. This allows their natural selves to come through in the image. Shooting photos in spaces that are personal to the subject seems to convey the story of their lives by showing all the little details in their world. The emotion can be conveyed through their expressions as well as the activity being performed by the subject.

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Sarah Peet

What is your process like when you begin a new project?

Working on projects gives me a chance to hear people’s personal stories and then to document them through images. I research the history of a company, person, organization, etc. and find out as many details as I can about the story that I am capturing with images. I spend time scouting the location for good settings for the subject to be photographed in and for the lighting conditions. I try to scout as close to the time of day I’ll be taking photos, so I know if natural light will work best, or if additional lighting will be required. I love meeting new people and hearing the details of their lives, I am naturally inquisitive.

Economic and social justice are two important values at Mission Asset Fund. How are you able to capture those concepts on film & was it difficult?

Economic and social justice are values prevalent in all of the images I’ve taken with MAF.  I have taken photos of people facilitating and being a part of a Lending Circle – which gives people financial opportunities they otherwise would not have had. I have documented growing business that were supported by MAF and have facilitated safe living conditions, higher education, healthier food, and many other successes. Many people have thrived and risen above poverty and difficulty because of the great support system MAF provides. It’s been great to hear about people’s success because they used photographs I have taken to build their own website, which helped their company expand and grow. I documented the happiness and proud moments which convey the concepts of economic and social justice such as a proud chef standing in her own restaurant or in front of her independent food cart or in her own home away from an abusive past.

What was your favorite photo from your time with us and what was the story behind it?

I’ve really enjoyed knowing Alicia’s story (of Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas). She is such a kind, loving and warm person. I like the photos of her looking proud and standing in front of her own independent food cart. She has worked really hard and is also so appreciative of all the support of MAF and those around her. Veronica of El Huarache Loco also has a very successful business and I loved documenting her in her kitchen of her own restaurant. I also loved seeing the spread with all of the DREAMers. It is nice to see a collage of so many faces of all different ages assisted by MAF.

What was the favorite thing you learned during the process with MAF?

I have loved hearing the sweet success stories that have come out of working with MAF.  There is so much abuse, negativity and struggle in the world, so it has been really nice to focus on moments of joy, support, love and assistance for people that are working hard to succeed.  It has been nice to hear how people have been able to change their living conditions for the better through their connection with such a great organization.

 


 

Jonathan

Jonathan D’Souza is the Marketing Manager at Mission Asset Fund and he loves to talk to talk to people about the importance of credit building while showing them too many photos of his dog Phoenix. You can reach him at [email protected].

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Love and Money

MAF_dreams_178What makes life worth living also makes it harder to navigate: Love.

We love our families, our neighbors, and our houses of worship. Where our love lies, our treasure lies also. When a baby is born, we buy gifts. When a parent falls ill, we pay medical bills; a child is the first to go to college, tuition bills; a family dreams to own its own home, a big down payment.

Love’s Fine Print

Love comes at a cost. These costs have been described positively as “lifting as we climb” and negatively as “crabs in a barrel pulling one another down.” In its positive version, when one family member does well, she can share information, serve as a role model, and sometimes provide material assistance to other family members or people in her community who are striving for a better life. In its negative version, love creates obligations to help those in need, and those in need know that you can be persuaded to give up hard fought gains to help them.

In a widely cited study of how people use their kin and friendship networks to navigate their needs in a low-income neighborhood, Carol Stack tells the story of a family receiving an unexpected lump sum that they intended to use for a down payment on a house. The good news traveled fast through their kinship networks, and requests began arriving for monetary help. The down payment disappeared; the aspiring family was pulled back into the metaphorical barrel.

How love affects money depends on what kinds of external supports are available to families trying to make ends meet.

Poor and middle-income families of color are more likely to have parents lacking adequate retirement savings. When their parents fall into financial trouble because the house needs a new roof, an infected tooth requires a root canal, insurance won’t pay 15 percent of cancer treatment costs, or a car’s engine has expired, it is up to the children to assist them. A thousand dollars here or there can devastate a budget where the coupon clippings and the overtime worked still mean that these families are a few paychecks short of eviction.

This view of love and money runs counter to the popular narrative of the impulsive consumer spending freely on frivolities. In April, sociologist Joseph Cohen published his analysis of household income and spending patterns from the 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Consumer Expenditures (CEX). He found that incomes have not risen as fast as the prices of basic goods and services. Families with stagnant or falling incomes were spending more on the basics: education, childcare, healthcare, transportation costs, and mortgage payments. Spending on television, computers, and many other non-essentials fell.[1] In other words, when securing their children’s educational future, looking after the health of their loved ones, or securing a dwelling place to own, households experienced the fragility of their finances.

A Love that Lasts

Families that dream of home ownership learn firsthand the value of love; the siblings or parents helping them, its costs. A couple may able to make the monthly payments on a mortgage but their credit files are too thin or their savings too low to qualify for it. They may need a sibling to co-sign on the loan, someone who cares for them and is willing to invest in their family’s security. If there are no other ways to increase the applicants’ credit scores or to shore up savings, compelling a family member to incur more risk seems to be the only answer.

But there are other ways. Rather than decry the negative effects of love, why not mobilize caring relationships to promote economic security? It has been (and can be). Love.

[1] Joseph N. Cohen, “The Myth of America’s ‘Culture of Consumption’: Policy May Help Drive American Household’s Fraying Finances,” Journal of Consumer Culture DOI: DOI: 10.1177/1469540514528196


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Frederick F. Wherry is a Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Cultural Sociology (CCS) at Yale University. He is currently studying the effects of culture, institutions, and social relationships on the banking and budgeting experiences of immigrant and minority households.

 

 

 

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Google Challenged

“You guys are not going to believe it!” Tara Robinson, MAF’s Chief Development Officer, said with a wild glint in her eye and a smile spreading across her face. Daniela Salas, MAF’s COO, and I were both eager to hear what her amazing news was.

Months earlier, Tara had written a grant application on a whim for a very special opportunity. She had completely forgotten about it since we were launching a new website, onboarding me as a new employee, and rebranding all our platforms.

As Tara clutched her phone, she began to read the email aloud, “We are excited to announce that…”General English Facebook

She stopped.

Daniela and I hung on the pregnant pause with excited anticipation.

“Oh”, Tara mused. “This is top secret, so none of you can tell anyone yet.” Daniela and I agreed immediately, because who doesn’t want to be in on a secret?

“We’ve been notified that MAF has been chosen as one of the top 10 nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area by Google! ” Tara said.

Daniela and I were confused but excited.

“So what does that mean for us?” I asked.

“Well, we have been chosen to participate in the Google Bay Area Impact Challenge,” Tara explained. Little did we know that this conversation would be the beginning of a whirlwind few weeks of strategizing, organizing, writing, campaigning, and voting–in short, one of the most transformative experiences that MAF has been through so far.

Challenge Accepted

Opportunity Google DREAMERSGoogle looked at over a thousand organizations for three main points: need, program impact, and scalability, to select the top 10 Bay Area nonprofits that would be voted on by the general public to receive up to $500,000 in grant funding. And we were in the top 10!

Once we were able to break the news to the rest of the staff about this exciting event, our first task was to make our Lending Circle program and its impact easily understandable for people in and out of the Bay Area, so they would vote for us.

For most people, talking about credit-building is as interesting as watching paint dry.

Our solution was to run a visual social media and email campaign. We had to find a highly innovative way of creating content that could be seen quickly and tell not only MAF’s story, but also the story of our members and what our programs do. Often, all of this had to be conveyed in less than 140 characters!

Our marketing team worked together to assemble a robust campaign of stories, images, social media posts, and key messaging that would tell people who we are and the kind of impact we could make in our community with their support. We also gathered together a list of our partners, supporters and advocates locally and nationally to help us get the word out. We created a schedule to pass out flyers and posters at local businesses, attend events, festivals, canvas on street corners and more! From May 22 to June 2, it was all hands on deck to push out our content and inspire our friends, family and networks to vote for us on the Google Challenge voting site.

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We approached the invitation to the Google Challenge from a celebratory standpoint. Google had not only identified us as a high impact organization, but it had also identified access to credit building and affordable financial tools as a critical need for local communities in the Bay Area. For us, this alone was a major victory.

In the end, MAF did not receive a top 4 spot in the voting campaign, but what we did get was much more valuable. We were able to reach a whole new group of people (more than 2 million!) and let them know how critical financial empowerment and credit building is to creating sustainable futures for hardworking families.

We were humbled by the amazing support from our members, partners, and supporters all over the world. We’re also grateful for an award of $250,000 for making the top 10, so we’ll be able to scale our program to thousands of families in 14 new communities in the Bay Area.

It’s interesting how something as small as an email can change the course of an organization. The voices you raised in support of hardworking families really made a difference. We were able to bring light to the everyday challenges that people without bank accounts or credit scores face, share their triumphant stories of perseverance, and kickstart an important conversation on creating a fair financial marketplace.

Thank you all for being with us through this amazing experience. We couldn’t have done it without you!

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When the Assets & Opportunities Network convened in December, Andrew Chang and I had just met, but we ignited a friendship that compelled us to find a way for our two organizations, MAF and CABO, to expand Lending Circles in Los Angeles.

Fortunately, the JPMC technical assistance fund for A&O Members, along with support from Citi and key funders, enabled us to organize a “roadshow” presentation on the Lending Circle model with CABO network members, as well as lead an in-person training for MAOF and CCNP, MAF’s two newest Lending Circle providers.

20140604_132915The roadshow on June 4th and training on June 6th sandwiched well with the CFSI 2014 EMERGE Forum, where MAF CEO Jose Quinonez served as a panelist. Coming full, dare I say “lending circle”, just a couple years before, MAF received an award from CFSI to expand Lending Circles through the Bay Area. Since then, MAF had not only proven through an academic evaluation the success of individual participants including credit score increases and debt reduction, but the ability to replicate the model through non-profit organizations in other areas.

Now MAF is providing Lending Circles through partner non-profit organizations in 11 states.

MAF is looking to expand further, including New York, Texas, Florida, Chicago, the Mid-atlantic.  MAF had been able to scale, and will continue to even more by employing innovative technology including online financial education and web-based trainings through a new “Lending Circle Communities” platform.

MAF’s roadshow took place at the United Way in Los Angeles. Over ten financial coaches within the CABO Network participated to learn about Lending Circles, a culturally relevant model of social lending and affordable, responsible product to build credit and realize larger financial goals.Postnumb4graphic

Though the challenge of accessing affordable credit is not unique, there are certain ways of course this plays out for local communities, like the unbanked community in Los Angeles.

Andrew shared for example, how Los Angelinos with thin credit files often borrow at a 25% interest rate for a used vehicle at “Buy Here, Pay Here” car dealership.  GPS tracking devices and “kill switch” allow the vehicle to be easily repossessed in instances of default.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that makes installing these devices illegal without the consent of the borrower, but sub-prime borrowers often have few alternatives.  They also end up paying more for less without a responsible alternative to establish credit before taking out a loan.

Since moving to Oakland four years ago from New York, I have gotten used to relying on public transportation, but I quickly learned during what felt like a family road trip to Universal Studies, that having access to a safe and reliable vehicle is not just a part of the car culture, but a necessity in Los Angeles.

Better credit, not only means more saving, but more financial security and peace of mind, so that hard-working families can get to work and take care of their families.

I look forward to the next A&O convening to share our story of collaboration with other organizations in the asset-building field.


 

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I recently started working at MAF and before I got in the door, Daniela, our COO, asked me if I wanted to attend a conference in LA. My reply was an emphatic yes! I’d only been to L.A once, so I looked forward to learning more about MAF’s work in L.A. communities and the great city. Before I knew what was going on, my colleagues, Mohan, Nesima and I were bleary eyed and on a commuter flight to attend EMERGE, a conference organized by the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

IMG_1120[1]The goal of the EMERGE conference is to focus on how the financial services industry can reach low to moderate income individuals.

Since MAF focuses its innovative social loan products and programs in communities that are invisible to the mainstream financial system, it was natural for us to attend and be ready to bring our innovations to the table. Personally, I wanted to get a glimpse of what this sector of the financial services industry was all about and the impact it was making.

MAF’s own CEO, Jose Quinonez, was a panel speaker for the first pre-conference session, “A Primer on Consumer Financial Challenges and the Underserved Market.” Hearing about the industry’s approach to innovation (more mobile access to fee based financial products, more innovation with pre-paid cards, to name two).

It became clear to me (and I may be a little partial) that MAF had a highly unique and innovative take on both the consumers being discussed and on providing access to an affordable, fair financial marketplace.

IMG_1114[1]I found two sessions particularly interesting. The first was a data analysis and review by LexisNexis on the population dynamics of the underbanked consumer after the recession. Lots of (propriatary!) data was shared, but one piece really struck me: relative to their financial health before the 2008 recession, the underbanked under 30 years of age were still much worse off than those 31 and over. Hmmm…

The conference’s final session was a presentation on the U.S. Financial Diaries research project. The preliminary research found, amongst other things, that folks that were low to moderate income tended to lend and borrowed money to each other as an alternative to conventional financial markets.Who knew? Why, MAF did! In fact, MAF was referenced several times in the presentation as being a driving force of innovation and scale in this area.

For me, the key moment was when a slide during the presentation told me the story of these communities and how MAF’s been ahead of the curve for years.

It was a great conference week, finishing with a whirlwind (but very moderate) meal with a few allies & partners  at La Costa, with some great people and awesome leather booths. Thanks, L.A., for a great trip!

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unnamedHow many Google employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?

We don’t know. But we do know how many Google employees it takes to elevate the user experience for our new online social loan platform: five.

How did we get five Google employees in our office in the first place? No, we didn’t trick them by luring them onto a MAF bus. (We didn’t have time to pull off a plan like that.) Instead, we had the honor of hosting five amazing unnamedemployees for the 2014 GoogleServe event.

Google encourages their employees to build relationships and create positive impact within the communities that they live and work in. One of the many options Google provides to employees is a day of service known as GoogleServe.

As one of the organizations lucky enough to be chosen as one of the GoogleServe locations in the Bay Area, we began to compile a laundry list of tech-related needs. Realizing that five people weren’t going to be able to provide solutions to all of our requests we whittled it down to one – helping us create a better flow for our new Lending Circles enrollment process.

It had been an issue we had been working on for a little while, and we felt that some fresh eyes and highly analytical minds would give us some clear direction towards an answer.

That Thursday morning our staff puttered around the office in hot anticipation of our incoming visitors. As the volunteers began to filter in, we were met with warm, friendly people who were excited to meet us and get started on the project at hand. Arriving with a box full of sandwiches from the Google office, Axel, Wenzhe, Dan, Chris and Sudarshan were happy to join a startup environment.

unnamedTogether, we set out to create a better experience for our members and partners when they enroll in our program and we wanted the volunteers to make that process even more intuitive. It is important for us to show the ease of our program from start to finish, and the enrollment process is the first interaction that everyone has with MAF.

They were interested in every angle of our process, the members needs, the partners needs, the ways to access the new platform, even the times of day we expected our partners and members would be trying to access the enrollment process. Once they had gathered the important information, they set to work. By noon, the MAF staff sat down to have lunch with the volunteers and thank them for all their hard work. We all discussed what it was that made us so passionate about our respective work.

Like the volunteers, we had a thirst for knowledge and a drive to create a better world through technology.

The volunteers talked about their experience as residents of the Mission, their admiration for the local communities, and the love they felt for the vibrant cultures and characters that make up the neighborhood. For them, credit was not something they thought about often, so they were surprised to hear how the lack of credit and access to a fair financial marketplace was negativelyt-shirts impacting the ability for families in the Mission to thrive.

One volunteer offered his own experience moving to the states from another country and how difficult it was for him to build credit. We also received a tutorial on how to quickly fold t-shirts, for Doris this was a life changing experience.

As the day progressed, we watched in awe as the whiteboard became progressively covered in words, lines, numbers, and random scribbles.

After a few hours, the Google employees had taken our goals for the new enrollment process and laid out a simple, workable plan to achieve them. We were able to find a solution to an issue critical to increasing access to our Lending Circles program as well as a new approach to creating innovative solutions.

Through the Google team we learned some creative new strategies for viewing a question, and creating innovative solutions. We talked about the importance of credit and financial stability for the health of our communities. Most importantly, we had time to sit down and meet like minded people who love San Francisco and its residents as much as we do. Plus, a few staff members even learned a unique way to fold a t-shirt. It was an interesting and eye opening experience, and we would do it again in a heartbeat!


 

Jonathan

Jonathan D’Souza is the Marketing Manager at Mission Asset Fund and he loves to talk to talk to people about the importance of credit building while showing them too many photos of his dog Phoenix. You can reach him at [email protected].

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Watching a group of people form their first Lending Circle is an inspiring experience, especially when that group will go on to form more Lending Circles in their own community. My colleagues, Mohan, John, and I trained staff members at the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP) in Los Angeles, two new partners who will be offering our Lending Circles program.

These partnerships have been almost eight months in the making after Mohan first met with Andrew Chang from the Center for Asset Building Opportunities (CABO), who introduced Lending Circles to his network of 10 asset-building nonprofit partners.

“My goal was for MAF to come and expand their products and services to the populations and communities we serve in LA,” Chang said.

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John and Nesima from MAF outside the MAOF office

MAOF, based in Montebello, California, is one of the largest Latino nonprofits in the country and is celebrating its 51st year of supporting the socio-economic betterment of Latinos in California. MAOF offers programs in education, asset-building, youth education and senior services. Lending Circles’ credit-building opportunity fit a tangible need for the organization’s clients. Many of MAOF’s clients have been living in the US for more than 5 years and are somewhat acclimated to the financial system but still find it hard to completely access.

CCNP is a nonprofit collaborative working to provide social services for children, families and communities in LA to break the cycle of poverty. The organization has been involved in a number of community economic development campaigns such as Bank On LA to connect unbanked residents to affordable financial services and Lending Circles is a great example of a program that clients can use once they have opened up bank accounts.

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Mohan from MAF trains the newest group of Lending Circles providers

Seven staff members came together with different financial goals from paying off debt, improving their credit, saving for a house and preparing for retirement.

Many of the them had participated in an informal lending circle or were aware of their existence from their cultural experiences. The credit-building aspect was intriguing for the members and they all were looking forward to the ability to improve their scores.

During the training, Mohan explained the enrollment, recruitment and formation process for Lending Circles and guided the staff through scenarios they could encounter when facilitating the program with their clients. Moving forward, our partner trainings will be done online through webinars and presentations in our Lending Circles Communities platform, but it was really great to have an in-person connection with the MAOF and CCNP staff members and share best practices together. I also got a chance to talk to MAOF’s marketing director to plan future storytelling and engagement opportunities to spread the word about the program.

The Lending Circles program has been operating in in LA for two years through our partnership with the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California. We’re excited to welcome these two outstanding organizations to the Lending Circles network.

Working with MAOF and CCNP will allow us to reach new communities of aspiring car owners, citizenship applicants, entrepreneurs, students and families who want to tackle their debt and lay the foundation for increased financial capability.


Nesima

Nesima Aberra is the Marketing Associate and New Sector Fellow at Mission Asset Fund. She loves storytelling, social good and a good cup of tea. You can reach her at [email protected].

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Jose, Daniela, and I set off to visit a promising new community to bring the Lending Circles program, Miami! I had been waiting for this day ever since I joined MAF. Now the day was here and it fell on Cinco de Mayo! On my way to the hotel, I decided to take a detour down Flagler Street, one of the main arteries of Miami community, the busy street runs right through little Havana and leads directly to downtown Miami.

I was not surprised to see that this vibrant street was share many similarities with MAF’s home in the historic Mission District of San Francisco.

Unfortunately one of the similarities was that it was riddled with check cashing and payday lenders. It was a visual reminder of why we were there and it gave me a better sense of what opportunities the nonprofits in the area we striving to create. Needless to say, I felt amped to deliver the presentation the next day.

MiamiThroughout Miami folks were preparing for Cinco de Mayo, I was preparing to give a presentation on how Lending Circles can transform communities. We entered the Miami JP Morgan Chase headquarters, as people began filtering in off of the warm Miami streets.  The sweet smell of Rosa Mexicano filled the room, while I have to say San Francisco has some amazing Mexican food, I will say that this was a close second.

At first with everyone entering and networking it was hard to judge the amount of people coming to hear about MAF’s Lending Circles.

As the the presentation started, I noticed that more people were coming in! By the time the presentation had ended people were lining the edges of the room. It was invigorating to feel everyone’s energy and to hear from the audience themselves the opportunities they saw by having Lending Circles serve their local community.

LionelThe next day I had the pleasure of doing a site visit with one of the local nonprofits, Catalyst, who had come to hear about what a partnership with MAF could do for them and their communities. They are a nonprofit in Dade County that acts as a diverse resource to jump start families and community members in a path towards success, a true catalyst.

The Catalyst team (Terry and Gretchen) gave me a warm welcome and gave me a wonderful tour of their site. I couldn’t help but admire their art work, some very personal, some that their own members had created, and of course some just completely awesome.

Overall it was an amazing experience. It was truly great to meet the JP Morgan Chase team and all the nonprofits that are working hard to make their communities a better place for families.

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