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Author: Jonathan D'souza

New Lending Circles Program in DC Area

Lending Circles to Debut in Washington, D.C. to Help Individuals and Entrepreneurs Build Credit

Latino Economic Development Center and Northern Virginia Family Service launch peer-to-peer lending program in partnership with MAF and Capital One

Washington, D.C. – July 8, 2015Latino Economic Development Center and Northern Virginia Family Service today announced the launch of DMV Lending Circles, a new peer-to-peer lending program in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, through a partnership with MAF that helps low-income Hispanic communities safely build credit with zero-interest loans. Loan payments made through Lending Circles are reported to credit bureaus, and the average credit score increase for participants is 168 points.

Lending Circles draws on the immigrant tradition of peer borrowing to empower members of communities to support one another. Participants make monthly loan payments and take turns receiving zero-interest social loans ranging from $500 to $2,500. All loan payments are reported to credit bureaus, enabling participants to build a credit history, raise credit scores and work towards greater financial stability.

“LEDC’s asset-building programs around homeownership and entrepreneurship are most successful when clients start with a solid credit history,” said Marla Bilonick, executive director, LEDC. “We were so excited to be selected by MAF to provide Lending Circles to DC area clients because credit-building is a critical piece for achieving financial empowerment and building wealth. Lending Circles give LEDC another tool to help our clients improve their financial well-being and fulfill their dreams.”

“Our clients are hardworking, extraordinarily motivated entrepreneurs. The NVFS Escala Program simply provides them with the missing skills and information to help them overcome barriers that many low-income immigrants face when starting a business,” said Adrienne Kay, Escala program manager, NVFS. “One of those barriers is credit and access to capital, and we are thrilled that through our partnership with MAF, our clients will access affordable loans, build credit history, and prepare for a financially stable future.”

According to a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), one in every 10 adults does not have any credit history with a nationwide consumer reporting agency, making it incredibly challenging for them to do anything that requires a credit score, including getting an education, starting a business, renting a car or buying a home. This same report found that Hispanic consumers and consumers in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to have no credit history or not enough current credit history to produce a credit score.

 “Without credit scores, there are no ‘good options’ when you want to start a business or get a small loan,” said Jose A. Quinonez, CEO, MAF. “Now, with the support of Capital One and partners like LEDC and NVFS, together we are providing a solution that works right here in the nation’s capital.”

LEDC, NVFS, MAF and Capital One will celebrate the launch of Lending Circles at an event taking place on July 8th at WeWork’s offices in Washington, D.C., where DMV Lending Circle members will speak about their experience and success with the program.

“Having a strong credit history is essential for individuals to thrive in today’s economy and ensure their financial well-being,” said Daniel Delehanty, Senior Director, Community Development Banking, Capital One. “As Greater Washington’s hometown bank, Capital One is proud to partner with LEDC and NVFS and support the regional expansion of Lending Circles, leveraging technology, credit reporting and MAF’s proven track record of harnessing the power of community to have a positive impact on individual economic success and stability.”

In addition, as part of their Building Entrepreneurial Economies program, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with NVFS to further the expansion of Lending Circles in Virginia, with a particular emphasis on Prince William County.

For more information on Lending Circles, please visit

About MAF and Lending Circles

MAF is a San Francisco-based nonprofit on a mission to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families. Its social loan program, Lending Circles, helps hardworking families access a zero-interest loan, receive financial education, and start building a credit history safely and effectively. People around the world lend and borrow with each other when bank loans aren’t an option. With technology and credit reporting, Lending Circles transforms this traditional practice to help borrowers access affordable loans, build credit history, and build financial stability. Social loan programs have demonstrated their ability to help people open bank accounts, avoid predatory lenders, and quickly and safely build their credit history. Lending Circles provides a safe and reliable way for hard working families to save money, pay down high cost debt, and break free of predatory lenders, while building the credit they need to thrive. For more information about MAF, visit: or

About the Latino Economic Development Center

The Latino Economic Development Corporation/Center (LEDC) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in 1991 in response to civil disturbances in the Mount Pleasant community. For 24 years, we have delivered comprehensive community and economic development services to build the capacity of DC area Latino and other underserved families. LEDC’s mission is to drive the economic and social advancement of low- to moderate- income Latinos and other D.C. area residents by equipping them with the skills and tools to achieve financial independence and become leaders in their communities. LEDC achieves its mission through four key service areas: small business development, microlending, affordable housing preservation; and homeownership and foreclosure counseling. We operate out of our Headquarters in Washington, DC and two satellite offices in Wheaton and Baltimore, Maryland.

About Escala

Escala, Northern Virginia Family Service’s Small Business Program for entrepreneurs, provides one-on-one small business development consulting and coursework to low- and mid-income families living in Northern Virginia. The program aims to assist clients in overcoming barriers to launch and grow sustainable businesses that increase household incomes, create jobs, and contribute to the local economy.

About Capital One

Capital One Financial Corporation, headquartered in McLean, Virginia, is a Fortune 500 company with branch locations primarily in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Its subsidiaries, Capital One, N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. As part of its ongoing commitment to communities across the country, Capital One recently launched Future Edge, a $150 million commitment to empower more Americans to succeed in a digitally-driven economy through community grants and initiatives over the next five years. To learn more about Future Edge and other Capital One initiatives please visit

Diana gets tails wagging with a small business loan

For Diana, dogs are so much more than little balls of love and fluff

Growing up in Mexico, Diana’s mother treated dogs like they were members of their own family. But when Diana moved to San Francisco at age 12, her family no longer had the space to accommodate a dog. She longed for the day she could bring a family dog back into her life, but it wasn’t until after college that she was able to make this dream happen.

After studying interior design at City College, Diana began her career working with a Home Stager. This was rewarding because she could make any house into a work of art. She could take an everyday kitchen and make it look like it was the set of a fancy cooking show, or a living room make it look comforting and homey just by arranging furniture and light.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, no one was looking to sell a house, let alone hire someone to make it look nice. The crash left her without a job and forced her to rethink her career trajectory. That’s when Diana began to look back on her childhood memories.

“I love animals, but I never thought there was a career in them,” Diana explained.

Diana decided to take a risk and jump into a new profession to start a job at a doggie daycare. She had been a lifelong pet owner, and doted on her French bulldog like a loving mom, but she had never done something like this professionally. But she quickly noticed some limitations with the work.

She loved every minute of working with the animals, but found herself frustrated by the long hours, low pay and limited upward mobility. As a result, Diana began looking for ways to become her own boss and set her sights on a opening a dog walking business.

Diana wanted to go to a bank and get a business loan, but she couldn’t. Even though she had lived in the U.S for most of her life, was a college graduate and had a full time job, she had no credit score.

“Once I knew I wanted to start a business, there was no turning back.”

She heard about a local nonprofit that could help her create a business plan through a friend and there she was able to get her dog walking business off the ground. One of the things that business planning taught her was how to find her niche. Diana decided that she didn’t just want to have a typical dog walking business. Instead, she wanted to combine her love of animals with eco-friendly values. She wanted to make sure that every part of her business was eco-friendly – from organic treats and foods the dogs enjoy, to sustainably sourced toys, and even biodegradable waste bags.

Within six months, she had her business license and Green Urban Dog was born. Now accredited to provide animal care, her eco-friendly services were ready to go by 2012. The next hurdles were building her credit score, getting more training and building a client base. To build her credit, she joined Lending Circles, where she went from zero to over 650 in just a few months. She then spent over 56 hours training in CPR and dog walking to learn the ropes. And by the end of 2013, she was able to land her first client. But before she could really call herself Green Urban Dog, she had one final obstacle to overcome.

Diana’s final hurdle was her gas guzzling car.

“I was spending nearly $90 a week in gas alone transporting the dogs across the city,” she said. She knew that she could save money, and fully green her business by purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Even though Diana now had a credit score, and enough income to make the monthly payments on a loan, her score was still below prime and so she couldn’t qualify for an auto loan for a car.

Diana came back to MAF because she heard about a program that provided zero-interest small business loans to business owners. With MAF’s help, Diana received a microloan for her business. She was able to purchase a used, energy efficient car to drive the dogs around. Since then, Diana has joined Lending Circle for Business to keep building her credit so she can gain access to larger loans from banks in the future.

Now with 12 full-time clients, Diana’s business is growing fast. She specializes in working with short nose breeds like English and French bulldogs – a tactic that helps her gain loyal and long term clients. She even runs a “Short-Nose Adventure club” for the pups that provides activities designed for short-nosed breeds.

“I tell everyone that I know, ‘go to Mission Asset Fund for a small business loan.’”

Building credit for the long-term while getting a zero-interest business loan has been a huge boost. Diana’s advice to aspiring business owners? Go for it! Although the road will be hard and scary, she believes “the sun shines for everybody” as long as they work towards their dreams.

Do you know of a small business owner like Diana in San Francisco? Tell them to sign up today at

Bringing together a Better Bay Area

MAF is bringing together the 10 best ideas for a more financially empowered Bay Area.

MAF is excited to announce the Better Bay Area initiative awardees! This moment has been months in the making. The Better Bay Area initiative launched late last year with support from Google, Y & H Soda Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to invite nonprofits in all of the 9 Bay Area counties to become Lending Circles providers.

Since then, we have been engaging with hundreds of people from a diverse group of organizations that provide imaginative and impactful programs and services and want to help their community build credit and increase their financial stability.

We are excited to be working with such an amazing organizations representing the diverse group of people and communities across the Bay Area to implement the Lending Circles program! In the next few months we will be sharing the stories of these new partnerships, the families they work with, and how lives are transformed through the power of Lending Circles. Stay tuned!

We’re excited to introduce the 9 organizations that will join the next phase of financial empowerment through credit building social lending in the Bay Area.

Brown Boi Project, Oakland:

Launched in 2010, Brown Boi works to empower womyn, trans-men, and queer/straight men of color to become social justice community leaders. They prioritize support that improves the lives of the community, and feel that financial empowerment and financial literacy are key factors in creating positive change. Brown Boi Project wants to implement the Lending Circle program to help their clients take their economic readiness to the next level.

Building Skills Partnership, San Jose:

BSP launched in 2000 from a collaboration of the SEIU-USWW and property service employers in Northern California. BSP improves the quality of life for low-wage property service workers and their families by increasing their skills, access to education and opportunities for career and community advancement California. BSP believes that Financial empowerment is a key factor towards acquiring individual success. They intend to use the Lending Circle program to provide hands on financial trainings that also support accessing money for citizenship fees , saving for college, and credit building for their clients.

Game Theory Academy, Oakland:

Game Theory Academy’s (GTA) mission is to improve economic decision-making and provide economic opportunities to low-income youth, to increase their financial stability and help them develop analytical skills that they apply to many areas of their lives. GTA is excited to incorporate Lending Circles into their programs in order to give young people the opportunity to build a strong credit foundation, practice budgeting in a supportive environment, and prepare for financial independence.

OBDC Small Business Finance, Oakland:

OBDC Small Business Finance’s mission is to create economic opportunity by empowering entrepreneurs. Through innovative partnerships, they provide business owners with capital, education, and relationships that allow their clients to flourish. Since 1979, OBDC has been helping their clients expand in size, increase their profits, and reach their goals. They plan to use Lending Circles to provide business owners with credit building opportunities, financial education, and community relationships to help their businesses thrive.

Peninsula Family Service, San Jose:

Founded in 1950 to strengthen families in the wake of Word War II, Peninsula Family
Service continues to help members of our community achieve their full potential. The organization reaches over 10,000 individuals each year, assisting underserved populations to overcome barriers to opportunity, financial stability, and wellness through an integrated network of tools and support. Lending Circles will bolster their existing Financial Empowerment services by adding a new credit-building tool to their innovative financial education, prepaid debit card, IDA, and vehicle loan programs.

Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center
, Mid-Peninsula / East Palo Alto:

Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center breaks the cycle of poverty by bringing the power of entrepreneurship and financial capability programming to low-income and economically vulnerable individuals, families and communities. Through our Secure Futures partnership with Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto and Nuestra Casa our Mid-Peninsula site is able to provides financial education and coaching to different communities in San Mateo County. As students are learning about setting savings goals, implementing household budgets, understanding the banking system and using credit beneficially, they are also introduced to safe financial services and products. Lending Circles will provide our clients with a safe and beneficial way to increase or build credit, lower existing debt or start saving for a predetermined goal of their choice!

Rubicon, Richmond:

Founded in 1973, Rubicon’s mission is to transform East Bay communities by equipping low-income people to break the cycle of poverty with a personalized, comprehensive collection of services that includes job placement, housing, legal services, and financial literacy. The organization is looking forward to using Lending Circles to financially empower adults in their financial boot camp as well as those who have been formerly incarcerated and/or homeless.

The Unity Council, Oakland:

The Unity Council is a non-profit community development corporation committed to enriching the quality of life of families primarily in the Fruitvale District of Oakland since 1964. Its mission is to help families and individuals build wealth and assets through comprehensive programs of sustainable economic, social and neighborhood development. The Unity Council will use the Lending Circles credit building program to increase the capacity of their work with small business owners and aspiring homeowners, as well as help their low income clients rise out of poverty.

Veterans Equity Center, San Francisco:

The Veterans Equity Center is a nonprofit organization located in the South of Market of San Francisco. Established in 1999, VEC was originally established to provide services for Filipino World War II veterans. VEC has expanded its services to include low-income seniors, families, people with disabilities, immigrants, LGBTQ, formerly incarcerated and homeless individuals. VEC provides support services to these groups through counseling, free legal clinic, affordable housing opportunity assistance, advocacy and activities for seniors and adults with disabilities. The Lending Circles program will complement their already robust services to further help immigrant and veteran clients become more financially empowered with the resources and credit they need.

Thanks to Jon D’Souza for his contributions to this post. 

Keeping Lending Circles hot with Chhaya

Check out how Chhaya CDC is using Lending Circles to support their economic development curriculum.

The temperature crept down to -1 degrees on the streets of Jackson Heights, New York. Even in the frigid conditions of this harsh winter evening, the Jackson Heights neighborhood is the quintessential American melting pot. People from all walks of life, all cultures, and all ages existing together. Even in the frigid dark of night, smiling, laughing people walked hurriedly over icy streets, through a light curtain of snow. The whole area is bathed in a flickering yellow and red glow, emanating from the neon lights floating in the night. Right off the bustling streets, away from the hum of the overhead train tracks, in a snow cloaked brick building, the Chhaya CDC offices released an unusually warm and inviting glow.

In the early 2000s, Chhaya, which means shade or shelter in many South Asian languages, came together to help provide housing assistance and community support to South Asian families. To ensure the long term stability of their community, Chhaya complemented their successful housing program with an economic development program. Through these programs, Chhaya was able to directly impact a larger range of social outcomes, including physical health, mental well being, increased financial security, community pride, and self worth.

With an already robust housing and economic programming, Chhaya was looking for a way to have their clients actually put their skills into practice, building their financial skills while building assets.

When they heard about Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles program, they knew it would be the perfect accompaniment to their financial education curriculum.  Chhaya applied through an intensive RFP process with National CAPACD (Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development) to receive technical support, training and financial assistance to implement the social-loan program with MAF.

Chhaya staff member Zarin Ahmed was one of the first staff working on the Lending Circles program after it had been implemented. “It was very daunting at first, selling the idea of Lending Circles to our clients,” she says as she lets out a little laugh.

The idea of informal lending is not new to South Asian populations.

Most know the Hindi term chit funds. Normally chit funds are done within family groups, so presenting the idea of social loan between community members was a little bit of a hard sell.

But Zarin and the Economic Development team at Chhaya had a great idea. They started their first circle with Zarin and several women who knew each other from a community group that Chhaya runs. Even though people loved the idea of Lending Circles, they were wary of this brand new program. But once people saw how safe it was, and when the women who were in the circles started telling their friends and family about it, there was an increase in interest in the program.

In its first year of partnership, Chhaya has provided access to $16,000 in Lending Circles to their clients.

The program is popular with their clients because they can put all of the economic training that Chhaya has provided them into action, while building the credit they need to thrive. They have already completed 3 Lending Circles with a fourth ending in March of 2015.

Along with Chhaya, National CAPACD sponsored three other Asian American development organizations with generous support from Citi.  National CAPACD has recently funded a second cohort of non-profits whom are about to launch their lending circles as part of their service delivery to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

MAF is proud to collaborate with National CAPACD and organizations like CHAYYA to implement Lending Circles.  We’re excited to see where we go next!

Thanks to Jon D’Souza for his contributions to this post. 

Building a Better Bay Area

Find out how you can be part of something big

Lending Circles, selected as a top 10 finalist in the Google Impact Challenge, has given thousands of families across the U.S. an opportunity for a brighter financial future. There are currently over 203,000 families in the Bay Area unable to access affordable credit, low interest loans, and most mainstream financial services.

In order to build a better Bay Area, we want you to help us reach those families and make a difference.

With the support of Google, Y&H Soda Foundation, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we’re partnering with nonprofit organizations across the Bay Area to provide Lending Circles in 10 new communities.

As an official Lending Circles partner, selected organizations will get a host of partnership benefits like training, assistance and access to our online social loan platform, valued at $70,000.

We’re looking for dynamic, community-based organizations who care about providing effective, culturally competent financial services to their clients and want to use the award-winning Lending Circles program to support that goal.

If your organization is ready to bring the power of the Lending Circles to your community, check out the RFP now.

Be sure to sign up for one of our three informational sessions to find out more:

January 22nd: San Francisco

January 27th: Oakland

February 6th: Mountain View

This is an exciting opportunity to help support economic opportunity in the Bay Area and strengthen community bonds through the Lending Circles program. Will you join us to shine a bright idea on to the financial shadows and build a better Bay Area?

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.

Claudia: Becoming a U.S. Citizen

From Mexico to San Francisco, this stylist followed her dream and is a proud new U.S. Citizen

There was a buzz of excitement in the crowd sitting in the balcony of the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Smiling families and friends waved American flags and excited children clutched bouquets of flowers. It was just like a graduation ceremony with life-changing certificates and congratulatory speakers. But this was a citizenship ceremony. In a few moments, everyone on the floor below would be U.S. citizens.

The immigration officer on stage told the soon-to-be citizens: “This country is a better place because of your talents, character and personality. Thank you for choosing the U.S.”

Claudia Quijano proudly stood with 1,003 other immigrants from 93 countries of origin listening to the speech. Each person was asked to stand up when their country of origin was called, at which point the audience would cheer until all the aspiring citizens were standing. America’s melting pot was right here in this room together from Guatemala, to Egypt, to Germany, to South Africa.

The ceremony featured video messages from Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Obama welcoming the new citizens to the country and emphasizing the significance of this privilege and duty. The keynote speaker was an immigration judge and daughter of Armenian and Finnish immigrants, who talked about civic engagement and serving one’s country.

Claudia’s journey started 9 years ago, August 2004, when she immigrated by herself from Mexico to Santa Rosa. She applied for political asylum and moved to San Francisco shortly after. Back in Mexico, Claudia studied at a beauty school and became passionate about coloring hair. She began styling in 1987 and had her own salon in 1991. She dreamed about finding success in the United States but knew she would have to compete with so many other immigrants and American citizens.

“It’s incredible. For me, it’s a very important day. It represents the most important goal for me in my life,” she said.

When Claudia first arrived in the US, she had trouble getting the right paperwork for legal residence. She obtained a lawyer who helped her become a permanent resident but then discovered that it was still difficult for her to secure the kinds of jobs she wanted because she was not a citizen. But Claudia was not discouraged.

She worked as a stylist at a salon in the Mission District when she learned about Mission Asset Fund and the Lending Circles for Citizenship program, which connected aspiring citizens with resources and access to funding for the $680 citizenship application fee. She was overwhelmed with how much MAF was able to provide her with the information she needed.

“Everyone there was always happy and helped me a lot,” she said with a smile.

In January 2014, Claudia joined a Lending Circle for Citizenship and received her check for the $680 application fee. She described the application process as “easy” because of the involvement and support of MAF and other nonprofit organizations.

Claudia is excited for many benefits that will come as a citizen, but the opportunity to vote is number one.

“There are many responsibilities I now have,” she said. “The most important is I can vote and improve my life.”

The candidates recited the national anthem followed by the oath of citizenship and pledge of allegiance. The moment was an emotional one for Claudia.

“I almost cried in the ceremony. My favorite part was singing the anthem with everyone. We were all singing and feeling happy,” she said.

Her advice to other immigrants and aspiring citizens is to fight for your dreams and not give up.

“Believe in yourself and look for places to help you,” she said.

The ceremony closed with a local choir singing two classic American folk songs, “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Claudia’s long-time friend, Maritza Herdocia, joined her after the ceremony to celebrate her achievement. Claudia named Maritca as a main support for her over the past eight years.

For Claudia, becoming a U.S. citizen means unlocking more opportunities. For years, she has worked as a hair stylist, renting chairs in small salons in San Francisco. But now that she’s a new American, she is ready to take on something even bigger: opening her own beauty salon.

Little Plates, Big Heart

Find out how MAF’s microloans can turn little plates into big business

In the middle of La Cocina’s large kitchen in the Mission District, a small woman moved with the graceful precision of a swan.

Gliding between steaming trays, boiling pots, and simmering pans like a gentle breeze, she smelled, tasted, and seasoned everything in a dreamlike blur. Around her were three other women, all moving with the thoughtful synchronicity of a well trained dance crew. Each woman was conducting a symphony of tasks over an orchestra of pots and pans.

Ximena and I felt like interlopers when we entered into the kitchen and asked for Guadalupe. But without missing a beat, the stout woman sprinkled a little salt into a pan and walked over to us beaming with pride.

“Ah”, she said “we missed you last week.”

Ximena and I apologized for not being able to visit her at the El Pipila tent at Off The Grid, San Francisco’s hub for the best food the city has to offer.

“It’s OK,” she said, waving her hand gently.

“I was so busy, I could barely talk to anyone!” she said with a giggle. For Guadalupe, life was not always as good as it was today.

When Guadalupe was a child in Acambaro, a small city in Mexico, she had a large loving family.

Her father, like many others, had to leave them and travel to the United States as an undocumented worker to support his family. He would send whatever pay he could to her mother so that she could take care of the children. Because of his status, he couldn’t visit with them, and had to stay separated from them for a better part of Guadalupe’s childhood. In 1986, her father received amnesty as an undocumented person, and in 2004, he finally became a citizen. Unfortunately, Guadalupe and her siblings were unable to get citizenship themselves, as they were now older than 18.

Like her father,Guadalupe ended up leaving her two daughters behind for the opportunities that the U.S. provided. As she recounts having to say goodbye to her daughters, tears begin to well up in her eyes. She remembers the moment she had to leave her little girls, how she knew she would never see them grow up, go to school, or attend their first dance.

She quickly composes herself, then turns around and points to one of the women cooking behind her.

“That’s one of my daughters”, she says proudly. The woman gives us the same beaming smile as Guadalupe. Her daughter is not just another chef, but a partner in the business.

The other women in the kitchen with Guadalupe was her mother, who had come to see the business her daughter had built. Guadalupe’s daughter was there as well, working alongside her mother. Three generations of women, together, building a business based upon cultural traditions and hometown flavors.

Guadalupe built her business, El Pipila, from the ground up. She worked almost every job possible in the restaurant business, until one day her friend Alicia told her, “You should just open a restaurant.” From there she built her credit and finances at Mission Asset Fund, went through La Cocina’s incubator program, and received one of MAF’s microloans. When she started her business it was just her. Now, she employs her whole family in one way or another.

Cooking for Guadalupe has always been a family affair, and today was no different. Guadalupe drifts in and out of thought as she talked about how she and her mother would make the tastiest tortillas from scratch and now, she and her daughters do the same.

She fondly remembers all the time spent with her siblings and mother in the kitchen. Each child had a specific duty and would always take the utmost care in completing it. For them food wasn’t just sustenance, it was the love of family made tangible and delicious.

With one of MAF’s microloans, Guadalupe was able to buy equipment and partially pay for a van for her thriving catering business. She is careful to tell us that even though she is doing well now, when she started she thought her catering business would never make it. Her food didn’t immediately catch on so she had to be very patient. It took her a few months, but people started coming to her booth and requesting her for events and dinner parties.

She now dreams of one day having a small food stand, a brick and mortar location that families can come to. When we asked why she is doing this, she looks back at her daughter and says, “I am doing this for her and her sister. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.

Shifting the focus on finance: Interview with Sarah Peet

An insight into how Sarah Peet captures the essence of social lending and the people of Mission Asset Fund.

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.

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 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

Google Challenged

A look back on our incredible Google Challenge experience

“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…”

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

Google 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.

Giving Credit

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!