A Warm Reception for Lending Circles in Minnesota


Thanks to our partner CLUES and a tight network of community nonprofits, we find lots of opportunity for credit-building in the Twin Cities

Journeying to the “land of 10,000 nonprofits” as Minnesota is known was the perfect opportunity for MAF to visit one of its strongest Lending Circles providers and host a roadshow event to engage new organizations looking to serve the financial needs of their clients.

Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1981 in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. CLUES’s programs and services focus on the Latino family, but the organization has the experience and capabilities to serve individuals and families from all walks of life including new immigrants and low income families who dream of a better future. This organization has a tremendous reputation in the Twin Cities for their comprehensive services ranging from mental health to education as well as their culturally competent client engagement.

On our first day in Minnesota, my colleague, Daniel, and I went to visit CLUES to get to know the staff and clients.

The weather was chilly but we were happy to get such a warm reception from everyone there as we got a full tour of the Minneapolis office and met all the passionate CLUES staff.

CLUES has been a partner of MAF since May 2012 with funding support by the Northwest Area Foundation.The organization currently offers Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, Lending Circles for Dreamers, and just launched a new program, Lending Circles for Homeownership. I was amazed at how many services they offer the community and the diversity of languages spoken there.

The Lending Circles program, managed by Alejandro and David in the financial empowerment team, is actually advocated to all clients who may not be aware of the importance of credit building when they come to CLUES seeking other services. The Lending Circles for Homeownership idea came out of the desire to help CLUES’ clients who want to buy a home in the next year but need to repair their credit or build their credit. After those clients complete their required homestretch class and learn the process of buying, they can join the Lending Circles for Homeownership program to access capital and build their credit. CLUES is the first organization to offer this program, so they’ll be piloting it this fall with 20 people.

Because so many of CLUES’s clients and staff are Latino, they were familiar with tandas and extremely receptive to a culturally relevant program like Lending Circles.

I took some time to interview a number of inspiring clients who were trying to pay off their debt, grow businesses and save up for a home, as part of our new campaign to share the diverse stories of our partner clients across the country. They were all thankful for their new credit scores and the opportunity it gave them to work towards their financial goals.

We also hosted a presentation at the Northwest Area Foundation, allowing us to connect with more local organizations who were all very interested in asset and credit building. Some had heard of us through CLUES and others were learning about the impact of Lending Circles for the first time. It was great to meet so many different nonprofits represented and hear what they’ve been doing on the ground to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, job seekers, aspiring homeowners and immigrants.

On our second day, we held a staff training on Lending Circles and I got to interview the staff about the partnership experience.  I met with President Ruby Lee and VP of Programs, Karla Bachmann, who shared CLUES’ inspiring mission and strategic approach to community development. The four pillars that guide the organization’s work are: Health and family well-being, economic vitality, educational achievement, and cultural and civic engagement. Lending Circles fits perfectly into the economic vitality category and serves as a vehicle for integrating communities and providing opportunities.

I hope we’ll be able to build off of the enthusiasm and creativity of nonprofits like CLUES to open more doors for financial inclusion and empowerment.

Our schedule was definitely packed over the two days with all our events and meeting, but we did get to squeeze in some time to grab lunch at the Midtown Global Market and explore the enormous Mall of America! This was my first time in Minneapolis so I didn’t know what I’d expect, but thanks to the fantastic staff at CLUES and the Northwest Area Foundation, I’m inspired to come back to explore the offerings of such a welcoming place to so many different communities.

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