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Lessons from Immigrant Families Left out of Federal Relief

RAPID RESPONSE INSIGHTS SERIES

Lessons from Immigrant Families Left out of Federal Relief

Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the financial lives of immigrant families. Through no fault of their own, millions of immigrants lost jobs and income they relied on to support their families, forcing them to deplete what little savings they had or extend credit just to survive. In their time of greatest need, Congress excluded more than 11 million immigrants and their families from emergency stimulus checks and a desperately-needed financial lifeline.

In an effort to help those left behind, MAF launched the Immigrant Families Fund (IFF) to provide unrestricted cash grants to people excluded from federal relief. Since launching the IFF in April 2020, MAF has received over 200,000 applications for support. Overwhelmed with requests for help, we designed a financial equity framework to determine who could benefit the most from a one-time grant, prioritizing applicants with the fewest income sources and most financial strains. By placing financial equity front and center, MAF has provided 55,000 grants to families with the greatest need.

In October 2020, MAF conducted a survey to learn how the pandemic and economic crisis impacted those left behind, collecting detailed information from 11,677 grant recipients. Now, drawing on what is the largest national survey of immigrants left out of federal relief, we report on the deep financial pain immigrants are facing, the strategies they are using to weather the crisis, and the cost of exclusion from a safety net that continues to leave people behind.

11.5M

immigrant & family members excluded

55,000

grants to immigrants

11,677

survey responses

“As an undocumented person who has filed my taxes for twelve years, it has been hard to have to accept that in times when we struggle, we are unable to receive anything back.” –Juan

Immigrant Families Fund Insights

The Financial Devastation of Immigrant Families

While Congress extended a financial lifeline to struggling families through three rounds of stimulus checks, over 11 million immigrants and their families were excluded from desperately-needed support. In this insights brief, we see the deep financial pain immigrants are facing and the cost of exclusion from a safety net that was not designed for everyone.

DOWNLOAD INSIGHTS BRIEF #1

  • THE FINANCIAL DEVASTATION OF IMMIGRANT FAMILIES1

  • THE FINANCIAL DEVASTATION OF IMMIGRANT FAMILIES2

  • THE FINANCIAL DEVASTATION OF IMMIGRANT FAMILIES3

Policies Matter: California v Texas

While California enacted housing and utilities moratoriums to help people facing financial hardship due to COVID-19, Texas failed to enact similar state level pandemic supports. In this brief, we see how consumer protections helped families avoid a steeper downward financial spiral, while conservative state policies have left households vulnerable to greater financial fallout.

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  • Eviction Moratoriums Helped Immigrants Stay in Homes

  • State Utility Moratoriums Averted Shutoffs

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COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on Immigrant Families

Facing income loss and left out of federal pandemic relief, immigrant families had to resort to emergency financial strategies to survive another day. In this brief, we shine a light on how the financial fallout from COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on immigrant families who’ve had to dig into their wealth building strategies to make ends meet.

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Essential But Invisible and Excluded

Two years into the pandemic, we hear stories about a recovery where most Americans are coming out financially stronger than before. Missing from these narratives are the experiences of the millions of immigrant families who were excluded from relief, many whom showed up for essential roles, but were treated as invisible. How did immigrant families survive the pandemic? How can we help them rebuild their financial lives?

DOWNLOAD INSIGHTS REPORT

  • Immigrant Families Disproportionately Hit by COVID-191

  • Immigrant Families Disproportionately Hit by COVID-192

  • COVID-19 in Household Worsened Financial Hardship1

  • COVID-19 in Household Worsened Financial Hardship2

  • COVID-19 in Household Worsened Financial Hardship3

  • Immigrant Families Depleted Resources for the Future

“I am behind on rent and bills. I am a single mother raising three children. This grant is important to me because I am going to have a form of relief knowing that I have some money to buy my children food and that with little money I can start paying the bills I owe.” – Delsis

Community Spotlights

San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund

By offering equity-centered relief, MAF ultimately reached 1 in 2 undocumented immigrant families in San Mateo County, funding more than 16,000 grants. In this brief, we see the deep financial devastation of the pandemic on the lives of immigrant families in San Mateo𑁋a devastation that threatens to make rebuilding financial lives a steep uphill road to recovery.

DOWNLOAD SAN MATEO BRIEF

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  • San Mateo Families With COVID-19 Got Hit Harder1

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Immigrant Families in San Francisco

For some immigrants who lost their stable jobs during COVID-19, gig work offered a window of opportunity to navigate the financial upheaval. MAF’s post grant survey captures how COVID-19 transformed the job market for immigrant families in San Francisco𑁋and how the shift to gig work fell short in helping families meet their basic needs.

DOWNLOAD SAN FRANCISCO BRIEF

  • Immigrants in San Francisco Turned to Gig Work

  • Gig Workers Experienced More Food Insecurity

  • Families Who Transitioned to Gig Work Faced Higher Costs1

  • Families Who Transitioned to Gig Work Faced Higher Costs2

  • Families Who Transitioned to Gig Work Faced Higher Costs3

“I have never been late or owed anyone anything so being in this situation makes me feel as if somebody else is controlling the outcome of my life.” –Jasmin

Explore More

Watch our Webinar: Excluded & Invisible

In the midst of a pandemic, millions of essential workers were excluded from federal relief. While media outlets report on the silver linings of COVID-19, we hear a different story from the families left behind.

WATCH RECORDING

Read Francisco’s Story: Strength During COVID-19

Francisco has always hustled and made sacrifices to keep his family safe and financially stable. But when the shelter-in-place order was instituted, his world turned upside down.

Read more

Learn about our partnerships

A community is at its best when neighbors show up in meaningful ways with trust and respect for one another. Learn about the power of collective action in practice.

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Rapid Response Insights Series: COVID-19’s Impact on CA College Students

RAPID RESPONSE INSIGHTS SERIES

COVID-19’s Impact on CA Public College Students

In a matter of days, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of millions. As colleges and universities closed campuses, students were suddenly faced with a precarious future: many found themselves out of work and stable housing, facing unexpected costs, and often without the technology or supplies to continue working toward their degree.

In partnership with the College Futures Foundation, we made a decision to step up and give California’s low-income college students what they needed most: direct cash assistance. Between April and June, the CA College Student Emergency Support Fund provided direct cash assistance to more than 6,000 low-income college students in California’s public higher education system. The Fund distributed relief with an equity lens, prioritizing students without income or access to relief, and with children relying on them. In July, MAF followed up with grant recipients to understand how the crisis was impacting students’ lives. Over two weeks, 3,193 students responded to the post-grant survey, sharing how they were making ends meet and how MAF’s grant had impacted their academic and financial journey.

In this Rapid Response Insights Series, we pull back the curtain on the financial lives of college students. We explore how, across thousands of students, financial strategies and resources are interwoven with family responsibilities. When we look ahead, our response needs to be guided by one fundamental understanding: if we truly want to help people reach their goals, we have to focus on what’s foundational—financial security. We invite you to step into the financial lives of CA’s low-income public college students and explore the full insights series.

Shareable Insights

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  • Financial Aid Fails Community College Students1

  • Financial Aid Fails Community College Students2

  • Financial Aid Fails Community College Students3

  • Community College Students Most At Risk Of Payday Loans

  • Students with Dependents More Likely To Work1

  • Students with Dependents More Likely To Work2

  • Students with Dependents More Likely To Work3

Webinar: Ensuring College Student Success Through Equity-Centered Relief

WATCH RECORDING

Insights #1: COVID-19’s Impact on CA College Students

DOWNLOAD INSIGHTS BRIEF #1

Insights #2: College Students’ Financial Lives Differ Across CA’s Higher Ed Systems

DOWNLOAD INSIGHTS BRIEF #2

Insights Report: Targeted Cash Grants Effectively Support Students’ College Success

DOWNLOAD INSIGHTS REPORT

Support for this research was provided by the College Futures Foundation.

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Energy Watch Chronicles: How A Small Business Owner Sweetened His Customers’ Experience By Brightening Up His Shop

Whether you’re a San Francisco Bay Area native, or have only visited the city a handful of times, you may have explored the famed “North Beach/Little Italy” neighborhood and crossed paths with the candy shop Z. Cioccolato (cioccolato is the italian word for “chocolate”). The storefront is hard to miss with its bright, playful, showcase window and a personality to match. The intoxicating smell of freshly popped caramel corn fills the sidewalk, compelling passersby to come inside and take a look around. 

Upon entering, you find yourself overwhelmed by bountiful barrels piled high with vibrant saltwater taffy, nostalgic vintage candies, charming childhood toys, and so much more. But there’s one holy grail that makes this candy shop so different than any other– here at Z. Cioccolato, it’s all about the fudge. Each customer that walks through the door is encouraged to try one of 60 unique, regularly rotated flavors.

Each detail of the sensational Z. Cioccolato experience is carefully preserved by the current and sole owner, Mike Zwiefelhofer, who has been on a mission to enhance the retail space by creating an unforgettable customer experience.

Mike comes from a long lineage of business owners.

For Mike, the ability to run a business runs in his blood. Mike’s great grandparents owned a small department store chain in Northern California for over 100 years and he has since followed in their footsteps: he began his first job as a box boy at the age of 14, worked his way up to a frozen yogurt shop owner, and worked in furniture sales before he arrived at the opportunity to purchase Z.Cioccolato.

“There were two major things that attracted me to this shop: One is the location, it’s an amazing location… But the main thing that attracted me to this business is the fudge…Without the fudge, we are just a normal candy shop, but with the fudge, we have something award winning, unique, and different. That is our signature.”

When Mike bought the store from the now-retired owners four years ago, he was excited to put his culmination of experience to the test:

“I did not know much about chocolate, but I did know about desserts from my frozen yogurt shop and I definitely know a lot about retail. So, the chocolate portion I was able to learn over the last 4 years…All of my experience is put to use here at the shop.”

As sole owner of Z.Cioccolato, Mike wears all the different hats in the shop. He has a sales staff to work the front and a chocolatier to work the kitchen, but every job in-between is his daily responsibility. When asked to describe a day in the life of a small business owner, Mike thought about how to answer for a brief moment and articulated:

“It’s a hard question. There are too many things I do…”

Life as the sole owner of a small business comes with its challenges; it can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. As a testament to Mike’s perseverance, in his first two years of learning the ins-and-outs of Z.Cioccolato, he maintained his second job as a furniture salesman to pay his personal bills and remain financially stable. That era was full of long hour days, back-to-back. Despite the odds, four years later, Mike focuses on building a future for his business.

As a small business owner, Mike has to carefully manage his business expenses.

During our conversation, Mike talked about the harsh reality that small businesses typically don’t make that much money. The high cost of running the shop makes it difficult to raise profits. Mike is constantly searching for areas where he can save money, but those opportunities are sparse when it takes a minimum amount of resources to simply run the shop. 

One day as Mike was operating Z.Cioccolato, he received a call from Mission Asset Fund (MAF) introducing the Energy Watch Loan Program. The Energy Watch Loan Program provides small businesses zero-interest, credit building loans up to $2,500 to finance energy efficiency upgrades. Business owners have the opportunity to save energy and money on their utility bill, while at the same time reducing their impact on the environment. The Energy Watch Loan Program is a collaborative initiative between MAF and the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

In a space where sales calls are frequent and in high volume, Mike was protective at first glance and filed away the information as being “too good to be true.” One year later, however, he was reintroduced to the program:

“I happened to meet the contractor who did the lights. He lives nearby and stopped into the store and he brought up the program. Now this is the second time I had heard of it, and I was able to ask him a lot of questions. He gave me an estimate of how much he thought I would save on my PG&E bill, and that’s what really made me say: ‘Well, it’s a no brainer.’

Mike utilized the Energy Watch Program to brighten up his shop (with a few added benefits).

Mike proceeded to get two different lighting upgrades over the following year, totalling around $3,000. Rebates and incentives from the Energy Watch Program enabled him to lower the cost to around $1,680 with a monthly loan payment of about $100 to be completely paid off in the next year. Right off the bat, the gains were noticeable: monthly savings on his PG&E bill added up to about $100, matching the monthly payments and totalling a value of $1,200 a year.

For a small business owner, a $3,000 out of pocket cost may be a high hurdle. As Mike pointed out, saving energy and “being green” is a privilege to some extent. If a business is not especially profitable, an energy efficiency project with upfront costs may become less of a priority. The Energy Watch Program removes this hurdle with affordable, flexible loan products. According to Mike:

“It allows you to do a project that otherwise wouldn’t get done…As a business owner, there are very few times where there’s something with no risk and no downside. It’s interest free money, it helps your business, it saves on your monthly PG&E bill.”

Mike’s energy efficiency upgrade had a bigger impact than just monthly savings.

Mike described that prior to the upgrades, the majority of his lights were burnt out, broken, and slightly different colors which gave the store a “run down” and inconsistent look. A business with this kind of lighting may appear on its way to closing down. Mike described the lighting upgrade as analogous to his ever-flowing candy bins:

“It’s the same thing with my candy bins, I don’t like them to get empty looking because it makes you look like you’re going out of business…”

Since the upgrades, every corner of the store is illuminated and appears the same, consistent, color. Although it’s a fine detail, the customer is positively impacted by it.

Mike is satisfied with his energy improvements and ties the project’s motive back to his commitment to creating a comfortable environment for his customers.

Throughout our conversation, Mike circles back to his loyalty to his customers and dedication to providing them with a unique product for their enjoyment. The shop’s signature seven layered Peanut Butter Pie fudge exemplifies this uniqueness. From what Mike and his staff can tell, Z. Cioccolato is the only candy shop in the world that makes a seven layered fudge.

Mike believes that part of Z. Cioccolato’s future is making the in-store retail experience something so unique and unforgettable that customers prefer to shop in-person rather than online. Over the past year, the lighting upgrades have helped to preserve and further cultivate the look and feel of Z. Cioccolato’s customer-centered, indoor atmosphere.

Mike has a deep passion for his work at Z. Cioccolato and will continue to advocate for the enhancement of all retail experiences to save small businesses the burden of competing with corporate giants. And as his customers, we have the sweet privilege of experiencing all the indulgence they have to offer. If you haven’t already, plan your next trip to make a candy shop stop at Z. Cioccolato on: 

474 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133.

Waiting on SCOTUS, UCLA Looks to Lending Circles for Deferred Action


MAF’s collaboration with UCLA’s Undocumented Student Center will bring Lending Circles for Deferred Action to more Los Angeles communities.

A current Supreme Court case could lead to skyrocketing interest in one of our signature programs, Lending Circles for Deferred Action.

In 2014 , President Obama announced an executive action to expand the “Deferred Action” program to grant “dreamer” youth and their parents a type of temporary permission to stay in the U.S. Although this policy has been blocked in the case United States v. Texas, a favorable Supreme Court decision expected in June of this year could make 5 million people eligible for DACA and DAPA.

For the many eligible UCLA students, affordability is a major issue.

Studies have shown that 43% of those eligible for DACA choose not to apply because of the high application fee. So when Valeria Garcia, Program Director for the Undocumented Student Program at UCLA, learned about the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program, she thought it would be a great way for UCLA students to finance their DACA applications. UCLA’s Undocumented Student Program provides a welcoming and safe space to help students navigate UCLA by offering mentorship, programs and workshops tailored to their unique needs.

Now, for the first time, UCLA students have the opportunity to join the Lending Circles program.

This partnership will enable UCLA students to pay for the $465 application fee with a zero-interest loan, and build their credit histories at the same time. Young, college-age
d youth historically have low credit scores. In a study conducted by Experian, millennials’ average credit score was over 50 points lower than the average credit score in the U.S. and close to 100 points lower than that of baby boomers.

With a growing network of Lending Circle providers, getting signed up with the program will be easy for UCLA students. Los Angeles partner providers (including including Building Skills Partnership (Los Angeles), Pilipino Workers Center of Southern CaliforniaMexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and Korean Resource Center (KRC)) have already helped participants loan and borrow nearly $10,000 in Lending Circles loans.

UCLA students can now feel empowered to take action, to build their credit, develop sound savings habits and put money aside toward specific goals, by working with these existing partners offering the program in their own backyards.

With immigration reform on the horizon, new opportunities for collaborations like this one can help remove the financial barriers many aspiring citizens face. In January of this year, MAF launched the Build a Better LA campaign for exactly this reason. This past April, we welcomed three new partner providers through this campaign: East LA Community Corporation, Koreatown Youth + Community Center, and LIFT-LA. Together, with local partner providers and organizations like UCLA’s Undocumented Students Program, we hope to reach more hardworking families in need of an affordable financial product – and a path out of the financial shadows.

Curious to learn more about Lending Circles for Deferred Action? Check out LendingCircles.org for more information.

Celebrating the Many Moms of Our Community


This Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating all the “MAF Moms” working hard to create better lives for their families through Lending Circles.

This Sunday is a day dedicated to the strong, wise, generous, and caring mothers in our lives. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating a few MAF clients who are working hard to build bright financial futures for their families.

Three Generations of Chefs

For Guadalupe, cooking authentic Mexican cuisine has always been a family affair. As a girl, she and her mother made the tastiest tortillas from scratch, and now she and her daughters do the same. She used her Lending Circles loan to buy equipment and help pay for a van to expand her catering business, El Pipila — which she runs with her daughter to support their family.

When we last shared Guadalupe’s story in 2014, she dreamed of opening a small, brick-and-mortar food stand. Now, she’s a food vendor at The Hall in San Francisco and a food truck regular at Bay Area festivals. Guadalupe’s family is key to her success. “I am doing this for my daughters. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.

A Mom on a Mission

Helen, a single mom from Guatemala, came to MAF with a simple dream: to have a safe home for her children. Because she couldn’t afford the hefty security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, she had no choice but to rent rooms in shared apartments — including one with families living in hallways.

After joining a Lending Circle, Helen saved up enough for a security deposit and built her credit score. Now, she has her own three-bedroom apartment for her daughters, and even bigger dreams.

Whipping Up Cupcakes with Her Son’s Support

Elvia’s son ignited her passion for baking with a simple question: “Mom, what do you love to do most?” After building a reputation for having the best desserts at parties, her family and friends encouraged Elvia to start a bakery.

She used a $5,000 loan from MAF to invest in a fridge, business license, and a number of necessities to grow her bakery, La Luna Cupcakes. She now has a cupcake shop in Crocker Galleria in San Francisco, and her children continue to be her North Star. “I always taught them if you want something, you can do it! Believe in your dream!”

Thanks to Lesley Marling, MAF’s newest Partner Success Manager, for her contributions to this post.

Introducing Chris, MAF’s Product Manager


Chris is on a mission to put data and technology in the service of social change.

As you may have noticed over the years, we’ve had great luck with Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE) fellows from New Sector Alliance. Today, we’re continuing that streak:

We’re excited to bring on Chris Ferrer, a former RISE fellow who’s now serving as MAF’s Product Manager.

Chris recently completed his fellowship at the Center for Care Innovations (CCI), where he created dashboards and complex reports in Salesforce to help identify key performance indicators and translate those findings into their first-ever annual report. Now, Chris is bringing those analytical skills to MAF.

He has quickly become our resident Salesforce guru.

In his work at CCI, Chris loved finding ways to leverage data to impact social change. He was naturally drawn to this role at MAF, which gives him the opportunity to apply
his expertise and improve our Salesforce platform — as well as the new challenge of developing a mobile app to better serve our clients.

Chris was particularly impressed by the “multifaceted approach that MAF takes through direct service,” which allows us to help low-income individuals build credit. He also appreciates MAF’s efforts to critically evaluate our services and measure their success, always searching for new opportunities to improve them.

“I think that this is an ideal and effective model to holistically effect change.”

Chris grew up in Maui before attending Claremont McKenna College, where he majored in Philosophy and Literature. One of the highlights of his college years was studying abroad in Paris. Despite growing up in Maui, he admits to being a terrible surfer — but“could give you some tips on falling.”

Chris is a huge soccer fan and loves watching the British club Chelsea. He enjoys listening to new music and likes to cook new foods. When I asked him if he wanted to share any other fun facts, he said “I love cheese!”

Meet Kelsea, Our New Development Manager


Kelsea comes to MAF with a passion for breaking down barriers to mainstream financial services.

No stranger to new places, Kelsea McDonough has lived all over the world: from Santiago, Chile, and Granada, Spain, to San Francisco and Oakland, which she’s now proud to call home. But she originally hailed from Boston, where she graduated from Tufts University with degrees in Spanish and Psychology.

During her formative years in Boston,

Kelsea volunteered at an immigrant advocacy nonprofit and worked at a rape crisis center. She then had the opportunity to spend a year in Granada, Spain, teaching English to preschoolers. Upon her return, she made her way to the Bay Area. She worked for several years in fund development at Prospera (formerly WAGES: Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security), an Oakland nonprofit that empowers low-income Latinas to build workerowned cooperatives. During that time, Kelsea also volunteered as a domestic violence counselor at WOMAN Inc. in San Francisco.

She first learned about MAF in 2013.

A colleague came to Kelsea raving about her great experience building credit through Lending Circles, and Kelsea was immediately inspired to join a Lending Circle with a group of co-workers. She still remembers the day they formed their circle, which they named “Celery Sticks with Buffalo Sauce” — the snack they were enjoying at the time.

Kelsea strongly believes that we must break down barriers to the financial mainstream for low-income communities in the U.S., and she’s admired MAF’s innovative Lending Circles strategy for many years. From the moment she walked into MAF’s colorful, high-energy office, she was impressed by how the team lives its values on a daily basis.

“Now that I’m here, every day I’m inspired by the whole team’s drive to push the envelope on creating meaningful financial products for low-income consumers.”

What does Kelsea find so inspiring about MAF? “Everything!” she says, “but I’m especially fascinated by how MAF uplifts informal community practices of lending and borrowing money and formalizes them so people can enter the financial mainstream.” Having seen a similar strengths-based approach in action at Prospera, she believes that this is the most effective way to achieve social change. Kelsea also admires MAF’s ability to seamlessly navigate so many fields, from community development and asset building to financial inclusion and FinTech.

Today, Kelsea manages the growth of MAF’s individual donor program and supports our overall marketing and development efforts. With the growing cultural consciousness about the need for more economic mobility — especially in the Bay Area where income inequality is skyrocketing — the time is ripe to mobilize support for MAF’s programs. Philanthropy brings people together to create a world where everyone can thrive.

Kelsea is excited to help MAF realize its bold plan to scale Lending Circles across the country.

In her free time, Kelsea enjoys exploring the Bay Area by bike, practicing kundalini yoga, and taking leisurely strolls around Lake Merritt. She has an unabashed love of cheesy pop music and makes playlists (both cheesy and non-cheesy) for any and all occasions.

Welcome Elena to the Partner Success Team


Elena’s passion for empowering communities and budding entrepreneurs makes MAF a natural fit.

Elena Fairley is a brand new MAFista, but her connection to MAF began three years ago. She first heard about MAF during a presentation at the California Co-op Conference. She was passionate about supporting local community members and entrepreneurs, so the idea of social lending clicked with her immediately.

Soon after, she organized a group of her friends into a Lending Circle.

Even now, Elena’s memory of her Lending Circle experience is vivid and warm: she remembers sharing stories, food, and laughter, and supporting one another achieve their goals. Her circle dubbed themselves “Holy Monkeys, We’ve Got Credit!” — a name that turned out to be true, given the big increases in their credit scores.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Needless to say, Elena has been a fan of MAF ever since.

Before settling in Oakland, Elena was born and raised in Portland, OR, and graduated from Colorado College with a degree in International Political Economy. As you might
guess from the list of places she’s called home, she’s an outdoor adventure fanatic. When she’s not at work, you can find her outside, splitting her time between rock climbing, surfing, hiking, and biking.

This connection to MAF was no accident.

Elena has been a long-time believer in the power of communities to come together to support one another. Before coming to MAF, Elena was the Learning & Partnerships Director at Prospera (formerly WAGES). This Oakland nonprofit provides training and assistance to Latina entrepreneurs so they can build co-ops — local businesses that are owned collectively by the workers.

At Prospera, Elena had the unique experience of seeing groups of determined, entrepreneurial women come together, pool their skills and resources, start businesses, and achieve economic prosperity. Much like Lending Circles, co-ops are all about leveraging the strengths of communities.

So why MAF?

The second she saw this opportunity, Elena felt a connection. It was an exciting role, a chance to work at the organization she’d admired for so long — a prospect she new she had to explore. Elena is thrilled to have been hired as MAF’s newest Partner Success Manager. She looks forward to forming close relationships with many of MAF’s diverse partners, from Game Theory Academy in Oakland to The Resurrection Project in Chicago.

Behind the Credit Curtains in Houston


A trip to Texas to talk about credit invisibles and how Lending Circles can help

Until recently, my time spent in Texas was limited to a single quick stop over after a study abroad program in Santiago, Chile. I barely had any time to take in the beautiful landscapes seemingly painted on the DFW windows before I was back up in the air again. That’s why I was thrilled to be asked to take some time to head to Houston with our CEO, Jose, to headline an event about Lending Circles for a large group of community-based organizations. I didn’t know what to expect.

My eyes were wide with anticipation as Jose told me about what I would be doing.

I was eager with anticipation to speak to a larger, new audience about the credit building benefits that Lending Circles.

Sure, I talk on the phone to partner organizations throughout the nation every week, and I often lead webinars for partners, but to present in a non-virtual way felt foreign (although refreshing). Everyday is a new adventure at MAF, but there’s always a comfortable structure to that adventure. I typically know which of my coworkers I will need to talk to and what questions to ask them. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with so many valuable organizations face-to-face.

With a few butterflies in my stomach and an open mind as I left my hotel, I hopped in an Uber and made my way to the United Way of Greater Houston’s office. JP Morgan Chase, Experian and The United Way were coming together to help us host an event so we could talk to nonprofits in Houston about joining our nationwide network of Lending Circles providers.

My Uber driver, James, told me about the amazing diversity of the Houston community as he drove me through the city. He talked about all the new cultures that were growing together and the new little enclaves and neighborhoods that were popping up – it sounded wonderful. He said that this renaissance had accelerated recently due to an impressive population growth in recent years. I loved the thought of being in a city that was growing together at such an amazing pace.

But I knew the stakes, too. The Houston Metro Area has a very high number of unbanked and underbanked families (39%). That’s more than 1/3 of families in the Houston area that are underbanked and credit invisible.

On top of that, 43.9% of Houston families are considered to be “liquid asset impoverished” (that means they don’t have access to adequate credit are one emergency expense away from long term financial disaster). It only made my purpose of speaking about the power that Lending Circles can provide even more critical. By the time all attendees were seated with coffee and breakfast, over 70 representatives from Texas nonprofits were in the room! We were energized by the tremendous turn-out.

The presentation started with the United Way of Greater Houston welcoming all of the attendees, followed by short introductions from Carol Urton of Experian and Yvette Ruiz of JP Morgan Chase. Jose then dove, fearlessly, into speaking about who MAF as an organization and how it formalized the concept of individuals coming together to financially support one another.

Following Jose’s lead, I walked up to the podium and took my place, beginning with the respective responsibilities for the participant and the partner to get clients enrolled and Lending Circles created. It was key to emphasize to this group of potential providers how the transition to a more robust social loan platform has made the expansion of 40+ Lending Circles partnerships possible in states like Texas, a platform that is designed around the capacity and user experiences of both partners and clients.

I was humbled by the engagement of the crowd.

It was clear that almost everyone knew each other from the way each person greeted one another like old friends do. Although everyone at the event was a new acquaintance for me, two staff members from a Lending Circle partner attended: the Houston-based Chinese Community Center. This partner is one of five current providers offering Lending Circles in Texas: Family Pathfinders, YWCA Fort Worth, and El Paso Collaborative, a new partner signed in April 2015.

The only question that remains: which one of the 70 Houston organizations will I get to work with next?

Dejando pasar oportunidades: mi vida antes de la ciudadanía


Mi camino de Soñadora a Ciudadana, y el ahora aprovechar todas las oportunidades gracias a Lending Circles para Ciudadanía

Las personas generalmente celebran su primer aniversario con papel, pero a mí me gusta hacer las cosas a mi manera. Yo celebré mi 14 aniversario de vivir en los Estados Unidos con papel: con la forma N-400. Esta forma es una promesa que mi madre hizo volviéndose realidad. Es una oportunidad para que yo obtenga mi ciudadanía en Los Estados Unidos. Con mucha alegría y emoción, con un pequeño paquete que incluía la forma N-400, mis fotos tamaño pasaporte y un cheque, comencé mi proceso para convertirme en ciudadana de los Estados Unidos el primero de abril. Este simple paquete de papeles significaba el mundo para mí. Fue mi esfuerzo, el esfuerzo de mi madre, el esfuerzo de mis hermanas y la promesa de un futuro mejor.

Mi historia de inmigración se trata tanto de mi madre como se trata de mí.

Mi madre sacrificó muchas cosas para traernos aquí y se enfrentó muchos obstáculos para criarnos en un lugar que, en aquel entonces, era extraño para ella. Mi madre dejó El Salvador escapando de un matrimonio violento, dejando a sus hijas y su vida como enfermera atrás en su último esfuerzo para sobrevivir. Dejó a su familia, a su trabajo y a la vida que conocía para que pudiéramos tener algo mejor; más de lo que ella podía darnos.

Yo dejé El Salvador dos años después de mi madre cuando tenía 11 años, con la promesa de que mis hermanas y yo nos reuniríamos con ella e iríamos a Disneyland (la mayoría de los niños inmigrantes que conozco vienen con esa promesa, aunque no hemos podido realizar ese viaje… aún).

¡En vez de Disneyland y estrellas de cine vine a vivir en el pintoresco Oakland, CA, que también está genial!

Aunque nuestro primer apartamento era pequeño y apretado, estaba lleno de amor y risas. Años después me mudé a San Francisco en donde pude echar raíces. Pero esas raíces no pudieron introducirse tan profundo en el suelo como lo había deseado.

Fue en mi adolescencia cuando realmente me di cuenta de lo que significaba ser indocumentada. En la preparatoria, dejé pasar muchas oportunidades debido a mi estatus migratorio. No pude ir con un grupo de chicas que visitaron Washington D.C. porque yo era una mucha responsabilidad para la escuela. Tampoco pude aplicar para pasantías para incrementar mi experiencia debido a que no tenía in número de Seguro Social.

Y entonces tuve que dejar ir una oportunidad única en la vida.

Estaba llena de curiosidad y deseaba explorar mi nuevo hogar, pero ser indocumentada me limitaba a explorar solamente California. En aquel entonces, nadie aparte de mis mejores amigas sabían que era indocumentada. Era la única en mi clase en esa situación y estaba temerosa de explicar la razón *verdadera* por la que dejaba pasar tantas grandes oportunidades.

Entonces tuve que dejar pasar la oportunidad de ir a la Universidad de California Los Ángeles debido a que costaba mucho y no podía calificar para un préstamo estudiantil. En 2006, cuando trataba de decidirme por una universidad, había pocos recursos para estudiantes indocumentados. Teníamos el AB540 que nos permitía pagar en matrícula estatal pero no pude calificar para Cal Grants o ayuda financiera federal como mis amigas ciudadanas. Así que terminé yendo a la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco y pudo terminar la universidad gracias a becas como la Chicana Latina Foundation Scholarship que no pedía un número de seguro social para poder calificar.

Tomó más de dos años de superar obstáculos de inmigración para ser residentes de los Estados Unidos, algo que no digo a la ligera.

Para poder convertirte en ciudadano de Estados Unidos, debes esperar cinco años después de ser residente para poder aplicar. Hace un año, anticipando nuestro quinto aniversario de ser residentes de los Estados Unidos, invité a mi madre y hermana a unirse a Lending Circle para Ciudadanía. Descubrí este programa durante mi pasantía en el Cesar Chavez Institute de la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco. Estaba trabajando como asistente estudiantil recolectando encuestas para una evaluación académica sobre prácticas financieras de individuos en el distrito de la Misión.

Mientras trabajaba para la escuela, escuché sobre los diferentes programas que ofrece MAF; uno de ellos siendo Lending Circles para Ciudadanía. Nos inscribimos para que el dinero que necesitábamos para la solicitud de ciudadanía no nos detuviera. Para nosotras tres, costaría más de $2,000 sólo por aplicar.  Con el aumento de los costos de vida en San Francisco, se ha vuelto más difícil para mi madre el estar al día con la renta y al mismo tiempo apoyar la carrera universitaria de mi hermana. El programa nos ha ayudado a ahorrar dinero cada mes para esta importante aplicación. Sabíamos que nuestro dinero estaría seguro con el programa de Lending Circle y que lo tendríamos disponible una vez que estuviéramos listas para aplicar.

En el programa Lending Circle, cada una hicimos pagos mensuales de $68 por diez meses para poder cubrir los $680 del costo de la solicitud de ciudadanía.

El ser residente ha sido una gran bendición. He logrado conseguir un trabajo que me encanta y he viajado a lugar con los que solamente había soñado. Lending Circles me gustó tanto que supe que quería ser parte de MAF. Fue emocionante el unirme al personal de MAF en el verano de 2014 como Coordinador de Programas. Mi trabajo me permite ayudar a individuos con historias parecidas a la mía. Veo en ellos los desafíos y oportunidades de mi propia experiencia como indocumentada en Estados Unidos y quiero estar ahí para ayudarles en su camino. Ahora que estoy en el proceso de convertirme en ciudadana, estoy especialmente emocionada de poder expresar mi voto en las elecciones presidenciales de 2016; ¡aquí voy!

Envié mi aplicación de ciudadanía el primero de abril de este año y estoy esperando continuar con el proceso de entrevista y juramento. Sigo animando a mi madre a hacer lo mismo manteniéndola al día con las ferias de ciudadanía al rededor de la ciudad, preparándola para las preguntas de la entrevista y ayudándola en maneras chicas pero constantes (como instalando una aplicación móvil de ciudadanía en su teléfono para que estudie). Mi meta es que ella aplique al final de este mes.

Quiero hacer tanto como pueda para ayudar a mi madre en su camino a la ciudadanía; así como ella ha hecho mucho por apoyar a mi hermanas y a mí.

Para mí, inmigración significa oportunidad. Significa supervivencia. Significa dejar atrás la violencia y el dolor de un hogar roto para crear nuevas memorias y experiencias en un lugar al que puedes llamar tu país. La vida en los Estados Unidos me ha dado muchas oportunidades pero también ha significado una buena cantidad de lucha.

Desde mis primeras memorias de vivir en un apartamento apretado con mis hermanas y madre, escondiéndonos en las sombras por 9 años debido a nuestro estado migratorio y hasta caminar hacia mi entrevista final para la ciudadanía. A la vista de todo eso celebro, me animo y sonrío.

Esta celebración no es sólo por mí. Esta celebración es para todos los que han batallado y luchado al enfrentarse a los obstáculos, a las bofetadas, a los sobrenombres, en su camino para encontrar paz y una mejor vida para sus familias. Estas victorias y luchas me han acercado más a mi madre, a mis hermanas y a encontrar una vida mejor para mí como ciudadana de los Estados Unidos. Ahora, mientras doy el paso final, reflexiono en el largo y dificultoso camino, en el papel con el que celebré mi aniversario, y en mi inminente ciudadanía.

Si conoces a alguien que pudiera utilizar Lending Circles para Ciudadanía, anímalo a que se inscriba hoy en LendingCircles.org.