Author: lending8

New Latthivongskorn: From dreams to medical school


New is a passionate public health advocate and the first undocumented student to enter UCSF Medical School

It was near the end of high school when Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn realized that he wanted to make an impact on the American healthcare field. His mother was rushed to the hospital in Sacramento after fainting and losing significant blood. They soon discovered that she had several tumors to take care of. New’s parents were recent immigrants from Thailand and didn’t speak English. His older siblings were busy with work, so New had to help his family navigate a complex healthcare system from translating at doctor visits, taking care of his mother, and handling insurance matters.

“It was the beginning for me to think about what I could have done in the situation, like if I was a doctor or healthcare provider,” he said.

New’s parents had given up so much after economic and social burdens pushed them to move to California from Thailand when New was nine years old. His parents worked long hours at restaurants as waiters and cooks in order to make ends meet. Their drive motivated New at a young age to excel academically and master the English language so he could achieve the American Dream. But because New was undocumented, there were still countless obstacles awaiting him on that journey.

New applied to a variety of University of California schools and was accepted into UC Davis with the Regents Scholarship that would have covered most of tuition costs. Right before the school year would have started, the scholarship offer was rescinded because he was missing an important document in his paperwork: a green card.

Growing up, New had experienced fear of friends and the greater community finding out about his status, but this was different. “That was my first time coming up against an institutional barrier,” he said. New was prepared to go to community college instead but his family came together to support one year at UC Berkeley.

After that, he would have to find the funds to continue on his own. “In my second year of college, I started getting desperate,” he said Luckily, in 2010, he received a scholarship from Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), nonprofit that supports low-income immigrant students in their pursuit of a U.S. college education. That was a gateway for New to becoming active in organizing for immigrant rights.

Getting involved with groups like the E4FC, ASPIRE, and groups on the UC Berkeley campus opened up New’s eyes to a community of undocumented students who were facing the same struggles. As he neared his graduation from Berkeley, New refocused his goal to going into the medical field but he still had so many questions as an undocumented person. “Is it even possible to go to med school? Where would I apply? How would talking about my immigration status affect my chances?” New said, remembering the confusion he felt.

“We didn’t know anyone who had gotten in to med school as undocumented but people said they had heard of someone who had heard of someone…It was like trying to find a unicorn.”

To solve that lack of structure and support, New co-founded Pre-Health Dreamers with two colleagues from E4FC, a group that two years later is growing across the country to empower undocumented students in their pursuit of graduate and health professional studies. After graduation, New interned at organizations relating to healthcare access and policy, which caused him to become interested in public health alongside the practice of medicine. “My parents and friends are undocumented and when they get sick, they don’t have access which is ridiculous.

I want to change that.” Shortly after DACA passed, New heard about Lending Circles and other programs that helped finance the cost of the application. He had already applied for DACA but he was interested in learning about credit-building. Now that he and his friends had SSN numbers, joining the Lending Circles could help them get started on a path of financial stability. New used his loan to build credit and pay for his medical school applications. “It has been very helpful. Now I have good credit and learned a lot after going through the financial trainings at MAF about managing money,” he said. All of New’s hard work paid off because he is now the first undocumented medical student accepted to UCSF School of Medicine.

With one week away, he is anticipating the start of an exciting journey and passing the Pre-Health Dreamers torch to the next generation of leaders. His main piece of advice for other undocumented youth is to speak up and seek help. “I got here because I had organizations that helped me come to term with what it meant to be undocumented,” he said. “As an Asian, undocumented youth, the fear was so much more pronounced. I know what it’s like to have silence define my life and my family’s.” New believes in finding mentors and advocate to help find opportunities. Perseverance is also key for him when making decisions.

“There is so much uncertainty but never take no for an answer. You don’t know until you try. I am living proof of that. If I hadn’t tried, I would not have had the opportunities I have had–I would not be here today.”

SB896: One signature away from history


After months of movement through the California Senate SB 896 has officially been sent to the Governor for final approval.

Mission Asset Fund is thrilled to announce that as of this morning, after more than a year of movement through the California legislative process, we are a single pen stroke away from SB896 becoming law.

MAF was sent notification that SB896 has moved through the engrossment process and is now on it’s way to Governor Brown’s desk to receive final approval!

We want to thank everyone who has been involved in this long, intricate process. Through your support, we are only one signature away from creating a new and better lending space for hardworking families that supports sustainable scaling and collaboration between micro-lenders statewide.

Now we need to make sure that SB896 gets signed! We sent a letter to Governor Brown yesterday afternoon to ask him to finalize this legislation. Read the letter below.


August 4, 2014
The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
Governor, State of California  

RE: SB896 (Correa)

Dear Governor Brown,

On behalf of Mission Asset Fund, we respectfully request that you remove unnecessary barriers to the financial mainstream by signing SB896 into law.

SB896 has overwhelming support from public leaders, nonprofit organizations and policy advocates across the state for its potential to create new opportunities for culturally relevant financial products and services to help low-income Californians realize their true economic potential.

Close to 1 million California families are in the financial shadows without access to the most basic mainstream financial products like checking or savings accounts. According to CFED, 57% of California consumers have subprime credit scores, making loans more costly and inaccessible to low-income families. Indeed, millions of Californians are forced to subsist on the financial fringes, struggling to access responsible financial tools to build their financial security.

SB896 would set a major precedent by recognizing and legitimizing the work in small-dollar lending and credit building fields. The bill will establish a licensing exemption within the California Finance Lenders Law (CFLL) for nonprofit organizations like MAF that facilitating zero-interest loans and provide financial education.

In the past 6 years, MAF has facilitated over $3.0 million in social loans through the tested and proven Lending Circles Program, allowing thousands of clients to improve their credit scores and to have access low-cost loans. MAF serves clients directly in the San Francisco Bay Area and indirectly through partnerships with other nonprofit organizations statewide.

The enactment of SB896 will encourage more nonprofits to help financially underserved Californians. The bill will recognize efforts by nonprofits to network and collaborate together to lower the cost burdens of providing lending services in their own communities.

SB896 has gained widespread support from the following public leaders, organizations, and advocates:

Asian Law Alliance
CA State Controller, John Chiang
California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity
Californians for Shared Prosperity Coalition
Calexico Community Action Council, Inc.
Center for Asset Building Opportunities
Centro Latino for Literacy
CFED
EARN
Family Independence Initiative
National Council of La Raza
Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector City & County of San Francisco
Opportunity Fund
Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California
Progreso Financiero
Salaami Firm
San Francisco City Supervisor, David Campos
The Greenlining Institute
Watts / Century Latino Organization

We are grateful for your leadership on this critical issue. SB 896 is a strong step forward in helping millions of Californians living in the financial shadows become visible and successful consumers.

Sincerely,
Jose Quinonez, CEO

Forming a community with Lending Circles


When you join a Lending Circle, you aren’t just getting a simple loan.

It was a chilly July evening in the MAF office in San Francisco; a gentle wind carried the pleasant smells and sounds of the vibrant Mission District through the streets. Inside the brightly lit MAF office, Doris and Ximena were working to set up the room for one of our Lending Circle formations. In San Francisco the lights of the city were just starting to blink on, as families returned home; half a world away in Guatemala, families were returning to piles of rubble and ash that used to be their homes after a rather violent earthquake.

Emergencies have a tendency to strike when you aren’t expecting or ready for them, but with the support of a strong community even the biggest emergency is easier to deal with. Doris and Ximena welcomed guests to the formation that evening. There were many new and familiar faces in the room. The air filled with conversation, anticipation and a sense of apprehensive hope. For many people in the room, they had been promised miracle fixes and unbelievable opportunities to help them gain a stable financial foothold.

A lady in a neatly pressed, green blouse talked excitedly to the man in the white t-shirt next to her about how she was here to build her credit, and then use the money to help pay for a car. Two women across the room were giggling and chatting about their day like two old friends, even though these ladies had only been introduced to each other 20 minutes prior.

One woman sat in the front of the room, her red t-shirt picked up her rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, a huge smile across her face.

She talked with the people around her, but chose to only say that she needed the money to help out her. The man in the white t-shirt said he too was there for his family. He was building his credit back up after his business had to close. Ximena and Doris quieted the room and began talking to the members about the formation process and how being a member of a Lending Circle worked. As they talked about the details of the process, the new people were busy taking notes, and the returning members were letting them know which pieces of information were of specific importance to their success in the Lending Circle program.

At the end of the informational session, Doris then asked the group what their needs were and how much money they were looking to get.

One voice said she needed to build savings and credit to buy a car at a good rate. Another person said he wanted to buy some new equipment for their business. Half the group requested a $2,000 loan, while the other half only needed a $1,000. When Ximena got to the woman in the red shirt, the woman stood up and looked at the members. She took a deep breath, her smile still soft and inviting on her face. She then told the group how she needed to get this money for her family in Guatemala. Recently, there was a terrible earthquake and her mother had been trapped inside the rubble that was once her home. Her mother had been rescued and was now safe and recovering from surgery, but once she recovers, she will have no home to go back to.

The woman in red talked about how when she was without a home, MAF had helped her find and pay for a safe, stable place for her and her two young children.

Now that same community was going to be able to give her mother a place to live after her emergency. She was grateful to know that there was always a place for her to come when she needed something, and she appreciated that there was always a community there to support her and her family. Doris and Ximena then disbanded the group for dinner, so that they could talk amongst themselves about what the loan payments would be and other terms of the loan. The returning members spoke to the new members, giving them tips on how to best use the Lending Circle. By the time dinner came to an end, everyone’s group had come to consensus about what their Lending Circle would look like. The $1,000 group came up and talked about what order people were going to be receiving the loans. They talked about the payments, and they also talked about how excited they were to start. When the $2,000 group stood up to talk, they had come to a decision as well.

After hearing about why the woman in red needed the money, they decided that she should be the first one to get it. She needed it far more urgently than anyone else in the group.

Once the meeting concluded, everyone started to file out of the MAF office into the crisp summer evening, all chatting and smiling. When you join a Lending Circle you aren’t JUST getting a loan, you are becoming part of a community that looks out for one another. A community is there for you whether you are looking to buy a car, build your credit, or get support when an emergency hits.

Welcome Ximena, Financial Services Manager


She brings her passion for business and community to the MAF team!

Ximena Arias joined MAF as a Financial Services Manager in May 2014. With her passion for entrepreneurship and her multicultural upbringing, she was a perfect fit for the job.

Born in Colombia, Ximena moved to the US at age 12 with her parents and younger sister. After the family settled in Miami, Florida, Ximena struggled to adjust to middle school. Luckily, her English as a Second Language classmates became a support group for her.

“We all related to each other being bi-cultural and gained an understanding of how to relate to others,” Ximena said.

Back in Colombia, Ximena’s parents ran a dental product supply business. Her father was the strategy behind the business, overseeing the operations, while her mother was the face of the business, working to bring in clients and build relationships with dentists in the area. Ximena believes she is a combination of her parents and picked up invaluable skills from both of their experiences.

Ximena loves being surrounded by diversity and describes Florida as a “big melting pot of Latin American immigrants.”

She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French and some German. She attended the University of Florida and received a BA in Linguistics and Business Administration and later a Masters in International Business. After she graduated, Ximena taught English and worked with international students.

Coming to the Bay Area, Ximena wanted to give back and follow her passion for connecting people with the resources they need to make better, informed choices. She worked at Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment before coming to MAF. She appreciates the Lending Circles model because it is familiar to immigrants and practiced all over the world. In her role as Financial Services Manager, Ximena oversees small business coaching, the microloan program, financial education and local client management.
“I love the way MAF sees a bigger picture, which is critical to make a difference. It’s really accessible and replicable in a way that works with communities and partners, ” she said.

“Replicating this program is an example of how nonprofits leverage technology and I am looking forward to seeing the organization grow.”

Working in the Mission District gives Ximena fond memories of Latin America from the food to the businesses and art. Outside of work, she loves music and hopes to one day compose her own songs. She’s also really great at whistling any song you tell her! Ximena enjoys exploring the thriving community and culture of Oakland, where she lives with her husband.

Welcome to the team, Ximena!

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”.

Delivering Lending Circles to The Mile High City


Find out what connects a lunchbox, social loans, and Denver, Colorado.

As I carried my Dad’s tiffin (A small metal Indian style lunch) box through the airport before boarding my flight to Denver, a TSA agent dutifully inspected what appears to be an unusual metal container.

Without a liquid or even a semi-liquid like hummus to cause alarm, all I could offer the TSA agent, as would be my grandmother’s practice whenever she is stopped by Customs officials, was my food and my charm.

Yet that slight delay actually created an intriguing moment of cross-cultural exchange.  I described the practice of millions of lunch boxes being delivered in Mumbai every day. Each Tiffin is filled with food made at by someone in their home and expertly delivered to hundreds of thousands of workers, by bicycle, without ever getting lost. A premise that lent itself to the polite love story of a new cross-over Bollywood movie “The Lunchbox”.

My experience, however, was more educational than romantic and perhaps foreshadowed what was to come with the upcoming presentation I was giving in Denver.  I got to share something new (my tiffin) by relating it to something familiar (the Lunch Box).

Colorado is new territory for MAF.

Chase graciously invited us to have them show us around, introduce us to people and sponsored MAF’s presentation so we could share our Lending Circles program with potential non-profit providers.

My colleague Tara and I presented in during the convening of the Clinton Global Initiative with about 25 non-profit professionals who came to hear how Lending Circles could complement their mission.

MAF working with new partners in Colorado makes a lot of sense to me.  Like San Francisco’s Mission District, it is often referred to as “up and coming”.  I experienced the thriving nightlife, where the streets were scattered with various food carts, selling delicious treats among old Jazz venues and new dance clubs.  I also read a story on Sunday in the Denver Post about micro-finance opportunities for recently arrived refugees and immigrants.

A conversation I had one evening in Denver with a college friend of my Dad’s from India made me even more determined to bring Lending Circles to Denver.

He told me about the rental shortage, a housing crisis similar to the one that’s gripping the Bay Area right now, coupled with a high number of foreclosures in his neighborhood.

These moments reminded me that with any progress, there’s inevitably some who are left behind. There are those who haven’t built up their credit to rent an apartment, who are strapped by making payments on their mortgage and don’t know how to choose the best financial product for them. MAF provides a solution to non-profits who are interested in building or expanding their programs to serve underbanked communities living in the financial shadows.

We are on a mission to expand our Lending Circles program across the country and boldly say that we will bring on 40 partners by 2015. MAF’s innovative Lending Circles Communities platform enables people to sign up for social loans through a mobile device, but it’s built on a time honored tradition of borrowing and lending money to each other.

Just like a lunch box, Lending Circles may look like a new kind of social loan, but it’s actually incredibly relevant and familiar to many communities.

Microloan Spotlight: Elvia Buendia, Cupcake Boss


Elvia loved desserts, so she followed her heart and opened her own cupcake shop!

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

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

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

And that’s when everything changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Welcome Carmen Chan, DREAMSF Fellow!


Carmen, a Dreamer from Venezuela, shares her story and dream to help undocumented youth.

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

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

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

2. Tell us a little about yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 [email protected].

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