Author: Samhita Collur

Introducing MAF’s Self-Employment Webinar Series

In this new political context, when our community told us that maintaining financial security was their top concern, we decided to invest in promoting self-employment. We decided to invest in the ingenuity of our communities.

This year, Mission Asset Fund debuted our self-employment webinar series. We designed this series to support entrepreneurs as they navigate different self-employment options and set up their business. We’re excited to continue building resources that empower people to be their own boss.

What inspired us

MAF has always believed in building programs that respond to the community. So, when the Trump administration rescinded DACA in 2017, MAF responded with immediacy and resolve. Within weeks, we launched a nationwide fee assistance grant program to cover the USCIS filing fee for DACA renewals. As a series of new legal developments unfolded over the next months, our work continued. Over the course of five months, MAF issued over 7,500 fee assistance grant checks across the nation. We later surveyed the recipients of our fee assistance grant program to learn more about how we can continue to build programs that meet their needs. Through our findings, we found that 76% of the individuals we surveyed were using DACA, and the accompanying work authorization, to pay for their family’s basic living expenses. We also heard that financial security was a top concern for individuals – in fact, 68% of those surveyed cited a worry about not being able to work because of legal status.

We wanted to build a program for communities across the nation who are facing financial uncertainty, and we believe that self-employment is an important option to consider, especially when traditional employment is not accessible.  

PART ONE: Explore Self-Employment: Discover Options to Work for Yourself

Part one of our webinar series, Explore Self-Employment: Discover Options to Work for Yourself, highlighted independent contracting, gig economy work, professional licenses, and how to start a business. We encourage you to check out some of the guides we created for these topics. Attendees also participated in self-reflection exercises to think about the intersection between their passions and their skillset, and plan the next steps in their self-employment journey – whether or not you’re planning to start a business, take a look at these reflection exercises

If you missed our live webinar, you can watch the webinar recording below:

Meet the Entrepreneurs

Meet the inspiring entrepreneurs featured on the webinar!

PART TWO: Being an Independent Contractor: Transforming your Skills into Self-Employment

Part two of our self-employment webinar series covered the ins and outs of independent contract work: how to market yourself and your work, how to use online freelancing platforms, and how to navigate tax and legal considerations. We heard from a number of experts. Drew Yukelson, Program Manager at Samaschool, shared these useful resources to get started on your self-employment journey, including a link to Samaschool’s free online course on independent contract work. Iliana Perez, Entrepreneurship Initiative Manager at E4FC, offered her expertise on how to navigate immigration considerations as an entrepreneur, and shared a comprehensive new guide from Immigrants Rising: “A Guide to Working for Yourself.” 

Watch ‘Being an Independent Contractor: Transforming your Skills into Self-Employment’. 

PART THREE: From Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Form an LLC Business

In part three of our self-employment webinar series, we explored the process of formalizing a business as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Entrepreneurs Patricia Murguia and Pablo Solares-Rowbury used their personal experiences with starting an LLC to a) highlight the benefits of forming an LLC and b) share some of their learnings along the way. Adria Moss of Pacific Community Ventures shared some practical advice about how you can create a business plan and manage your business operations as an LLC. Check out these tools and resources to get started on your LLC journey.

Watch ‘From Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Form an LLC Business’

What’s next?

Part four of our self-employment webinar series is in the works! We’ll be sure to keep you updated!

#HereToStay: Announcing MAF’s new immigration loan programs

Mission Asset Fund is excited to launch new zero-interest, credit-building loans available throughout California to cover the USCIS filing fees for U.S. Citizenship ($725), DACA Renewals ($495), Green Cards ($1,225), Temporary Protected Status ($495), and Petition for Immigrant Relatives ($535). Eligible individuals can apply now at bit.ly/MAFheretostay

We were inspired by the insights we’ve collected from our community

Over the years, we’ve maintained a commitment to building programs designed by and for our community.

Most recently, following the administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September of 2017, we responded to a very immediate financial emergency as families scrambled to come up with the $495 necessary to cover the USCIS filing fee. Over the course of a few months, we were able to issue over 7,500 grants to DACA recipients totaling $3.8M+ across the country to cover the USCIS renewal filing fee. We’ve also continued our financial coaching work at the Mexican Consulates in San Francisco and San Jose, and we’re in the process of launching several new mobile apps and resources like our Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants.

 

 

Through our work with immigrant communities over the past year, we’ve deepened our understanding of the top financial concerns and priorities for individuals, regardless of immigration status. We’ve learned about the importance of financial security and access to capital in moments of emergency. We’ve learned about the financial burden that USCIS filing fees can present to families, preventing a large number of eligible individuals from securing immigration protection. We’ve learned about the need for secure and stable employment for individuals to cover basic living expenses and provide for their families.  

We’ve used these insights to inform the next chapter of our work. If you’re interested in learning more about our research insights, stay tuned for a blog series from our Research & Development team detailing some of our key findings from a survey we conducted with DACA recipients.   

Learn more about the programs and spread the word

We’re excited to begin offering a series of new loan programs in California that facilitate pathways to immigration protection and stable employment for individuals and their families.

 

 

Here are some next steps you can take:

1. Watch the recording of our webinar.

Learn more about the enrollment process and how to apply. Share the video with your community and other non profit organizations throughout California!

2. If you live in California, apply for a loan to finance your USCIS application.

Need help financing your USCIS application fee for U.S. Citizenship, DACA Renewals, Green Card, Petition for Relative, or Temporary Protected Status? Apply here if you live in California.

3. Spread the word on social media.

Tell your friends and family and post one of these images about these new programs on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

We want our community to know that MAF is #HereToStay. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay in the loop about our new programs.

DACA: The stories behind the checks

After September 5, 2017, MAF quickly mobilized to provide financial assistance to DACA recipients across the nation. Our campaign was inspired by our belief that DACA recipients and their families deserve the opportunity to continue building their future in this country. Hundreds of scholarship recipients shared with us the significance of receiving a $495 check from MAF to renew their work permits. The stories we heard reinforced the injustice of the administration’s decision to rescind DACA. But each story also revealed a force more powerful than injustice – hope for the future.

7,000+ scholarships. 7,000+ powerful stories. Here are just a few of the messages we received:

Ramos:

“It’s really hard to save $495 while having rent, utilities, veterinarian costs, and other bills to pay. I am also saving for college and my medical expenses. We always worry and try to help abandoned animals in need over helping ourselves. You help us get closer to our dreams and goals that will help the world someday. It may take forever, but I have hope that we will reach our dreams.”

Josue:

“I had a very difficult year battling with cancer, and I’m just getting back to work. Without your help, it would’ve been incredibly difficult to put together that amount of money in such a short time. Once again, Thank you very much for your help and all you continue doing for us Dreamers whom solely purpose is to live just everyone else, because we too are Americans.”

Ana:

“I was running on a great amount of stress because I knew my family was having a hard time economically, and the deadline to submit our renewal applications was very close. I was worried about my future, and even spoke to my college adviser about what would happen if I lost DACA. Thankfully, the president of our school informed us right away that DACA being revoked wouldn’t affect any DACA students at my school. Soon after this, I filled out the application for your scholarship.”

Kevin:

“My fiance and I were really worried that we wouldn’t be able to renew because of the money. You have inspired us. Thank you for all the things you guys are doing. It makes me feel that I have a voice and that I am being heard.”

Rosa:

“I am a student studying Political Science with a minor in Philosophy. I plan to attend law school in the future. I am on a competitive dance team, I have a dog, and I work three jobs, to not only support me financially but also to prepare me for a future career. You may feel this is bizarre, but I just wanted to help put life to the name you wrote a check to. I wanted you to know that your work goes beyond financial assistance. You’re helping us feel secure and pursue our dreams.”

And we will #RiseUpAsOne

Nora’s Journey: A story of strength

Today, Nora speaks excitedly about the prospect of buying a home. She shares the number of rooms she’d like to have, her ideal neighborhoods, and even hints at how she plans to decorate her kitchen. As she reaches the end of her second Lending Circle, she is developing the credit score and the sense of financial stability to soon turn her excitement into a reality. But behind Nora’s current success is a story that sheds light on the resilient and resourceful ways in which many Lending Circles participants have lived for decades.

Working towards the “American Dream”

Nora was born in Michoacan, a state on Mexico’s western coast. She immigrated to Los Angeles in 1988 in pursuit of a brighter future for herself and her family.

Three years after moving to Los Angeles from Mexico, Nora got married. She and her husband both worked hard, saved diligently, and began building a life together. In time, they bought a home and started a business – a transportation company that sold commercial trailers.

They were proud of their achievements. While it had been extremely hard work, they felt they were on the path to achieving the “American Dream.”

The Great Recession changed everything

However, in 2007, Nora, along with millions of other individuals residing in the U.S., was a victim of the Great Recession. It was a period that devastated the wealth of families across the nation, especially immigrant communities and communities of color. Nora and her husband were among the estimated 10 million Americans displaced from their homes from 2007 to 2011. Along with their home, they lost their transportation business – the business that they had sacrificed so much to build. Nora and her husband were forced to file for bankruptcy and their debts started multiplying.

Lifting the burden of debt

A few years later, Nora slowly began to feel more empowered to take steps towards rebuilding her life, Nora visited the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), a nonprofit based in Los Angeles that is dedicated to providing economic opportunity for the Latino community in California while celebrating and uplifting the pride, values, and heritage of Mexican American culture.

As soon as she started working with MAOF, the staff enrolled her in their debt reduction program. Armed with perseverance, within a few years, Nora’s debt was reduced from $20,000 to a mere $20. The burden of debt no longer loomed over her, and she felt more confident and hopeful. She could walk into work every day without the fear of being harassed by debt collectors. This was a liberating feeling.  

“Words can’t describe the relief I felt when I got my debt cleared. I had so much stress before. It was truly a victory.”

Resilience in the face of loss

In 2014, Nora was once again hit with an immense challenge. She lost her husband to sudden illness. She was left to cope with a devastating personal loss while also managing a set of hospital and home payments all on her own.

She decided that it was time to downsize her life and move to a new city. Adapting to her new life and new financial limitations was a tough transition for Nora. Without a strong credit score, it was hard for her to get an apartment to live comfortably, and it was nearly impossible to apply for a credit card to help make ends meet. After speaking with MAOF staff members about how to build her credit score, she was introduced to Lending Circles.

MAOF has been a Lending Circles provider since 2014, offering Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, and Lending Circles for DACA. So far, they’ve served around 200 clients, generating over $100,000 in loan volume.

Nora decided to join the Lending Circles program in 2016 to focus on repairing her credit. Within several months of completing her first Lending Circle, Nora’s score increased from 400 to 660. She applied for a credit card for the first time in years, and to her delight and pride, she was approved. Nora has since joined a second Lending Circle, and she is determined to continue building her credit score.

Nora has refused to let bankruptcy, debt, or any challenge keep her from pursuing her dreams.

By participating in these “Cundinas,” a Spanish word for informal Lending Circles, her goal is to re-build her credit score and eventually purchase a home. “I am tired of sharing a place with other families that I don’t know,” she says. She thinks back to those first few years of her time in the U.S. – after she had bought her first home and built her transportation business. Her journey has been tough, but she knows, with authority, that new doors will continue to open for her. “There’s still a long way to go, but I know I can do it,” she says.

Thank you to Maria Perez for her contributions to this story. Maria Perez, is a coordinator for the Lending Circles program at Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF).

Claudia’s dreams: health, credit & a new bakery

When Claudia’s husband was offered a job in the United States, she encouraged him to take it and insisted that the entire family—the two of them and their two children—move from Guatemala to build a new life for themselves. It was important to Claudia that their family stay together.

Three thousand miles later, their family reached Virginia, their new home. Claudia’s husband started his new job, and Claudia devoted herself to caring full time for the children and improving her English skills. She did this with a specific goal in mind: she wanted to start a bakery business, just like the successful one she had proudly founded and operated in Guatemala.

Claudia and her family had been living in Virginia for just over a year when Claudia had a fainting episode and had to be rushed to the emergency room. She had low blood pressure, and her blood sugar had dropped suddenly.

Shortly before, her husband’s employment contract had ended. Claudia no longer had health insurance. The doctors quickly cleared her and ran minimal tests, but the hospital bill still added up to $6,000, far more than she could pay out of pocket. Claudia had no option but to enroll in a payment plan with the hospital.

Before applying for the payment plan, Claudia hadn’t given much thought to building a credit history. Moving to a new country required her to navigate countless unfamiliar systems and bureaucracies. Claudia had enough on her plate. Building credit simply hadn’t been a priority.

But when she applied for the payment plan with the hospital, Claudia had her first encounter with the costs of being credit invisible in the United States. Without credit, she was subject to high-interest rates on the bills that were already a burden to her household budget. She had to use her husband’s credit card to make the payments on her medical bills, and the medical debt resulted in his credit score dropping considerably.

With her bakery aspirations in mind, Claudia decided to prioritize building her own credit history. But motivation wasn’t enough. She had no idea where to begin.

A friend encouraged Claudia to visit Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), a social services nonprofit that supports families throughout the region and facilitates leadership-building and innovation among community members. One of NVFS’s programs, called Escala, provides one-on-one small business development counseling to Latino families. A long-term goal of the program is to contribute to asset-building and wealth creation for low- and moderate-income Latino residents of Northern Virginia.

Claudia enrolled in a seminar called “How to Start a Business.” It was in that course that she first learned about Lending Circles.

NVFS had joined MAF’s nationwide network of Lending Circles providers in 2015. Given their existing programs to support asset-building, credit-building, and small business ownership throughout Northern Virginia, and their reputation as a trusted provider of culturally relevant programs, the partnership was a perfect fit. By integrating Lending Circles into the existing suite of programs, NVFS was able to offer a proven path to better credit for clients already dedicated to improving their family’s financial health.

Without her own income, Claudia was not eligible to join a Lending Circle on her own. But the Escala staff helped her leverage her husband’s income to meet the eligibility requirement. This accommodation captures what makes the Lending Circles approach different than the rigid requirements of many standard financial institutions’ credit-building opportunities.

The Lending Circles program is built to work with families, not against them. It takes into account the reality of their lives, and the services are tailored to meet people where they are.

Claudia joined a Lending Circle and began making payments to build herself a credit history. The financial education integrated into the program provided her with tools she could use to pursue other credit-building opportunities and develop her financial health. She opened her first bank account, set a savings goal for herself, created a budget that would help her achieve her goal, and began exploring the financial products that would be available to her once she had established sufficient credit. Through Lending Circles, Claudia’s credit score has increased from 0 to 680.

Becoming credit visible was empowering for Claudia. She felt an expanded sense of hopefulness and opportunity. Doors were opening for her. She was getting closer and closer to her dream of opening her own bakery.

With her new credit score, Claudia first turned to her medical debts. She was able to refinance her payment plan at the hospital to lower her interest rates, immediately saving herself $200 that the previous interest rate had added.

Next, Claudia applied for a personal loan that she used to contribute to her nephew’s tuition in Guatemala. Her credit score was a personal feat, but it also had important implications for both her immediate and extended family. The opportunity afforded to her by her credit score transcended her social network and crossed international borders.

Claudia has since joined a second Lending Circle. Beyond continuing to build her credit score, Claudia’s goal for this circle is to use her loan to finance the startup costs of getting her bakery business off the ground, including business registration, access to a commercial kitchen, and business supplies. Every day, Claudia’s credit score, her financial savvy, and her determination and perseverance take her closer and closer to her dreams.

Special thanks to NVFS Lending Circles Site Coordinator Karina for her contributions to this story.

With ❤️, From: Mom, Charu, Mama, 엄마, Hajurmuma


From a thriving chocobanana business to a spicy pinch of kimchi that literally means “I love you.”

At MAF, we’re always looking for an excuse to share stories. In celebration of Mama’s Day 2017, a few MAF staff members and Lending Circles clients told us about their moms, grandmas, and chosen mothers—and just what makes them so special.

She’s an inspiring example of resilience for me.

Charu, aka “mom” (Chicago, IL)

Well, aside from the fact that she’s simply the most radiant woman I know, she’s hilarious—especially when she’s feeling #nofilter. She has the best commentary when we’re watching Bollywood movies together.

I also admire her creativity and her drive to keep learning and trying new things. In addition to being my mother, she sells her handmade jewelry at trunk shows and craft fairs around Chicago, and she teaches, performs, and delights her family with her Indian classical music singing!

$$ LESSONS: She taught me the importance of financial independence. As a result, I’ve made an effort to spend wisely, save consistently, and manage my debts responsibly.

– SAMHITA, Partner Success Manager

I lost my mother 10 years ago, and Reyna stepped up to the plate.

Reyna, aka “mama” (San Francisco, CA)

Reyna is my best friend’s mother, but I felt a very motherly love from her from the moment I met her. She is hilarious, hardworking, and she has a drive at the age of 52 that can barely keep up with! She told me, “no matter what you need, I am here.” She has done that—and more.

$$ LESSONS: Never give up. Reyna struggled as an immigrant coming to this country 25 years ago. I went through similar immigration battles, but thanks to her guidance early on and her unconditional love and support, I was able to persevere. She even told me about a traditional lending circle (long before I discovered MAF!) she had been part of, and she encouraged me to join. That helped me save money for all the costs that came along with my immigration process.

– SHWETA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s the most selfless person I know.

Irene, aka “mom” or “Reeny” (Long Island, NY)

She is a deeply and naturally generous person. I always joke that she never sits down at dinner because she is making sure everyone else has what they need. She’s taught me to find the humor and a silver lining when things don’t go as planned. This was especially relevant while we were planning my wedding!

$$ LESSONS: Her own mother passed away when she was 19, so my mom had to learn by necessity how to save for the future, spend wisely, and stretch a dollar. She instilled in me from an early age the value of being intentional about spending. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little extra for something if you anticipate keeping it for a long time. Don’t be tempted by things that are inexpensive in the short term—that’s often a waste of money.

ALYSSA, Partner Success Manager

She’s always been hardworking and trustworthy. Now she has the credit score to prove it.

Celia (San Francisco, CA)

Oh, my mother is so special! She is my inspiration, my role model. She is joyful and courageous. No matter what life obstacles she faces, she is fearless with a smile on her face.

$$ LESSONS: She’s a natural leader, and people flock to her for advice. People would come to her with their money problems. She created many lending circles in her community to help people pool resources and build savings. Although my mother has always been a dedicated saver, she didn’t have the opportunity to establish a credit history. I was thrilled to introduce her to MAF. After participating in a few of MAF’s Lending Circles, she’s built a beautiful credit score for herself!

PATRICIA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s a fighter.

Ana, aka “mami” (San Francisco, CA)

My mom? She raised three girls on her own. She overcame enormous obstacles to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

$$ LESSONS: When I was about ten years old, before we moved to the U.S. from El Salvador, my mom helped my sister and me get a little business going that we ran out of our house. We offered two distinct services: photocopying (we’d invested in a printer) and chocolate-covered bananas (official name: chocobananas). We didn’t even have to advertise—people just knew to come to us for their printing and chocobanana needs. And we learned some very valuable lessons from this entrepreneurial venture, most importantly: 1) work hard; 2) try not to eat all the chocobananas in your inventory. Those lessons continue to guide me to this day.

KARLA, Client Success Manager

She was one of the first women from her home state of Orissa, India, to attend medical school.

Sarat, aka “Mama” (Odisha, India)

There’s so much I admire about my grandmother: her ambition, intellect, passion, and humor, just to name a few. And she’s given me so many gifts throughout my life. My grandmother has been my yogi. It’s thanks to her that I developed my own yoga practice and have even taught yoga a different points in my life. Another gift that I cherish: her stories. Her letters, previously handwritten and in more recent years delivered by email, are simply the best.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother taught me the importance of savings and frugality. She would know. It was her rupee-pinching and homemaking that ensured opportunities for her children and grandchildren. She instilled in me an appreciation of the importance of being able to stand financially on my own two feet.

MOHAN, Director of Programs and Engagement

My 엄마 / umma is my #1 bae.

Young Ki, aka 엄마 (Queens, NY)

She’s her own type of “tiger mom.” She never pressured my brother and me to get straight A’s but instead to find and pursue our passions. She’s a fierce dreamer who came to NYC with no idea what was going to happen to her. I’ve definitely inherited that idealism and rebellious spirit. I also inherited her love for food. Growing up, we weren’t always able to communicate in Korean or English too well. I learned that a pungent bite of kimchi could literally mean “I love you.”

$$ LESSONS: My mom taught me the importance of taking risks. She never saw money as an end goal but always as a means to something more. She was the one who pushed my dad in owning our grocery business, purchasing our first home, and investing in my brother’s and my college educations. Her financial philosophy guides and inspires me.

JAY, People, Fun & Culture Coordinator

She exudes joy, warmth, and love.

Nilsa, aka “mama” (Mission District, SF)

My mom is the most powerful woman I know. I look up to her, and everything I do is to make her proud. I feel very fortunate and honored that she is the woman that raised me into who I am today. She’s given me so many gifts over the years: excellent hugs, wise and compassionate advice, and a love for music and salsa dancing.

$$ LESSONS: My mom has taught me so many important financial lessons that have saved me money and heartache, and I’ve been sure to pass them down to my own children. And those lessons have been about more than just money. They’re about life: save consistently and manage your money wisely, no matter how much you have or earn. Focus on paying your bills and rent on time; worry about the wants later.

DORIS, Client Success Manager

She is one of my “five stars,” the five most influential women in my life.

Sulochana, aka hajurmuma (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Hajurmuma is the official term for grandmother in Nepali – hajur means “with respect” and muma means “mom.” And my grandmother is worthy of every ounce of respect. I so deeply admire her strength, grace, and beauty. She’s taught me so many important lessons that have made me the person I am today. Her best piece of advice? That no matter what happens in life, you must always remember to dance. It keeps your spirit alive.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother’s life is an example of the lessons she’s taught me: the importance of working hard, getting a good education, and achieving financial independence. As a young widow, my grandmother managed to successfully run a business in her community in Nepal. In those days, it was unheard of for a woman to do that. I am so inspired by her bravery and independence! She also bought me my first piggy bank and taught me my first lesson in finances: “save, save, save.” That’s a lesson I have practiced to this day, and finance has become my life’s work.

SUSHMINA, Accounting Specialist

No one can make spare ribs and asparagus like she does…

Chau Phung, aka “mom” (San Francisco, CA)

There are many things I love about my mom… But one of the first things that comes to mind is her cooking! She is a very talented cook and baker. And she has shared those skills and her passion with me!

$$ LESSONS: Well, considering I’m the Financial Services Associate at MAF, you can probably guess that finance is pretty important to me. And that’s all thanks to my mother. From the time I was very young, my mom always made a point to teach me important financial skills so I would be independent and prepared for the future. She taught me how to make a budget, stick to it, and save for a rainy day. She’s a dedicated saver—no matter what challenges came up, she always had savings to count on. She’s diligent about living within her means and not overspending. I’m grateful to have learned those skills from her.

JENNIFER, Financial Services Associate

My mother is superwoman incarnate.

Sonia, aka “mami” (Key Biscayne, Florida)

Take for example: her daily routine when we were kids. She would get us all fed and out the door, go to work managing senior home care services, squeeze in a quick 30-mile bike ride, and finish the day off cooking a delicious dinner while singing along to her iPod. Her energy and upbeat attitude radiate from her. Through the ups and downs of life, she keeps us all in good spirits.

$$ LESSONS: Starting when I was little kid, my mom would “encourage” (um, force) me to put my birthday money straight into savings. She even gave me a credit card on my 18th birthday to teach me about credit and how to build it slowly! It was painful back then, but I’m forever grateful for those lessons.

CARLOS, Partner Success Manager

Thank you, Mom.

With love,

The MAFistas

Words from the Wise #LCSummit16


A Financial Coach, a scholar, and a philanthropist on what Lending Circles mean to them

One of our favorite parts of the Lending Circles Summit was hearing from wise members of our community on what Lending Circles mean to them. Here are a few highlights.

Frederick Wherry is a Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

He studies how immigrant and minority households become more equitably integrated into the financial mainstream. In partnership with MAF, he’s interviewed hundreds of Lending Circles clients to understand their experience of Lending Circles and the significance of credit in their lives. His research has led him to broaden the concept of financial inclusion and propose a framework of financial citizenship. His book is forthcoming in 2017.

In his keynote address, he emphasized the importance of practicing deep empathy so that we can not just hear, but genuinely listen to what our clients need and value – rather than prioritizing our own assumptions.

He told us, “When we hear but don’t listen, we risk obstructing justice rather than advancing it.”

Leisa Boswell is the Financial Services Specialist at the San Francisco LGBT Center, one of the earliest Lending Circles partners.

She is dedicated to empowering the community through financial education.

In her remarks, she spoke to the particular value of Lending Circles for the LGBTQ community:

“The LGBT community has always been one of chosen family. We have had to take care of each other when our given families would not. Mission Asset Fund has understood this concept from the beginning. They know that communities take care of their own.”

And she shared this story of one of her earliest Lending Circles clients:

“One particular story I recall is that of a woman who has worked her entire life as a musician and in that industry money is unpredictable and often on a cash basis. Her dream of becoming a homeowner seemed impossible due to her lack of access to credit. The lending circle gave her the opportunity to build credit rapidly and qualify for a mortgage and I’m happy to report she is now the proud owner of a below market rate condo in NOPA. All of this happened in less than a year. That is how powerful the lending circle is.”

Daniel Lee is the Executive Director of the Levi Strauss Foundation in San Francisco, CA.

MAF and The Levi Strauss Foundation share a long history: MAF was lucky to have the Levi Strauss Foundation as its very first supporter. Daniel, a self-proclaimed history nerd, graced us with his own telling of MAF’s origin story.

It went like this:

“Levi Strauss & Co. had a factory that was in continuous operation for 96 years at 250 Valencia Street. When that building was sold, a $1 million seed grant from its proceeds went to MAF.”

Daniel closed his remarks with a memorable toast to Lending Circles providers all over the nation:

“For your remarkable bias toward action as leaders and your insistence that solutions sprout organically from the community (not airlifted in GMO form); for bringing your full selves to this path-breaking work; for using every tool at our disposal and embracing unlikely allies and bedfellows.”

These remarks were delivered at the Lending Circles Summit, which took place from October 26-29, 2016, in San Francisco, CA.

Sonia: A Future Chicago Homeowner


Building Credit and Community through Lending Circles at The Resurrection Project

Sonia arrived in Chicago from Puerto Rico one year ago with hopes to turn over a new leaf. As a result of a difficult divorce, her credit report was dotted with blemishes.

A low credit score and considerable debt were keeping Sonia from accessing affordable loan options and achieving an important personal goal: purchasing a home.

In her search for a solution, Sonia discovered my organization, The Resurrection Project (TRP), in a local newspaper.  She learned that TRP provided Lending Circles and became interested in this opportunity to re-establish her credit—so much so that she didn’t mind taking a 45-minute bus drive from the north side of Chicago to our south side neighborhood to meet with me.

Like all Lending Circles participants that come to TRP, Sonia began by meeting with me one-on-one for an initial financial coaching session. Together, we reviewed her monthly income, budget and credit history, and we discovered several discrepancies on her credit report. While we completed her Lending Circles application, she reached out to the credit bureaus to address and resolve these inconsistencies.

At her Lending Circles formation in April, Sonia became a member of Los Ganadores—“The Victors.” As the name implies, Sonia has since won several small victories, leading her closer to her ultimate goal of rebuilding her credit and becoming a homeowner.

Since participating in Lending Circles at TRP, Sonia has increased her credit score by 65 points, decreased her debt by nearly $7,000, and increased her savings by $1,000.

Since joining Los Ganadores, Sonia has not only made significant strides in her personal finances, but she has also gained a new friend. Sonia and Alicia, another participant, connected at their Lending Circles formation and established a beautiful friendship. One wonderful aspect of the TRP Lending Circles program is the sense of community that participants form, both at the start of a circle and beyond. Alicia and Sonia formed a close bond through their Lending Circle. Alicia now volunteers at Sonia’s church food pantry and even joined Sonia at her wedding last May.

Sonia has embarked on the journey to make a new life for herself in Chicago, and we are so happy to support her in reaching her goal. Sonia will be telling her story in her own words at TRP’s next Lending Circles Brunch, where all of our participants come together to share their experiences and celebrate their accomplishments.

About the Author: Madeline Cruz is a Senior Financial Coach at The Resurrection Project (TRP), which offers financial coaching, homeowner education, entrepreneurship support, and immigration services in Chicago, IL. She’s a featured speaker on the panel “True Heroes: Engaging Clients in the Digital Age” at the 2016 Lending Circles Summit.

The Freedom to Move: My DACA Journey


How DACA gave me the opportunity to help others & make my parents’ sacrifices count.

Before Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced in 2012, I spent all my time volunteering while enrolled in community college. When I reflect back on that time, I think I needed an outlet for all the energy I had as a student. My parents always touted the importance of seizing every opportunity–they themselves packed up not once, but twice, from their native homeland of Guangzhou, China to move to Sonora, Mexico (where I was born!) and then from Mexico to Los Angeles, California, sacrificing so much in those years as immigrants to follow the path that would pave the best future for my brother and me.

However, the Catch-22 was that because my family is undocumented, many opportunities were not available to us as we navigated life in the US.

I faced institutional barriers that prevented me from achieving what my parents had dreamed of for their children–unbounded opportunity as long as you try hard and work. They worked under-the-table jobs for $3-4 an hour to support the family and make sure my brother and I could focus on our education– something they believed would allow us, the next generation, to create better lives for ourselves. They worked hard to change the course of the future for us, and those sacrifices created in me a frenetic energy to achieve it. I volunteered somewhere almost every day, including the weekends. It is not to say that time was not valuable–at the local animal rescue, homeless shelter, hospital, library, and the Asian art museum, I found out that I had a passion for community, and I was able to put my energy to use.

I wanted to be part of something, to work and contribute to my community.

I became very involved in the museum, and my role as a volunteer grew to founder and facilitator of their college/museum summer program. One day, my supervisor asked me when I would graduate to see when they could hire me onto the museum staff. In that moment, and many moments like that, I would feel vulnerable and watch as doors seemingly within my reach were shut before I could take advantage of them. I was undocumented and could not legally work in the US, so they could not hire me and compensate me for my work. I also didn’t know if I would ever graduate, since I could not receive federal financial aid, and transferring to a four year university was financially out of reach. It was extremely difficult to battle the feeling that my efforts in school and my volunteer work were fruitless.

DACA changed everything.

The announcement quelled my mother’s years of sleepless nights feeling frustration and guilt for our status–she was brave for herself and her sacrifices, but when it came to her children, she could not bear to watch us so stalled. My parents scrounged up the $465 for the application fee, took out all the records they had so diligently saved, and pushed me to apply quickly. I was approved for DACA a few months later. Almost immediately, the road was cleared for the things that were keeping me from moving forward. Because the CA Dream Act also passed soon after that, I was able to receive financial aid. I finished up my requirements to transfer while working two jobs (I finally had a social security number!), and got my driver’s license/ID. It had such a huge impact on my psychological state when I was able to join friends at places where we had to get carded, when I received this tiny little card that simply, officially stated my name and my date of birth.

Now I had the freedom to move. And move forward I did, graduating this past Spring from the University of California in Santa Cruz with a degree in Anthropology.

After being involved in the Dreamer student movement, learning the causes of inequality through my studies, and taking internships at nonprofit organizations, I am compelled to guide DREAMers and immigrants out of the shadows. It has brought me to really ponder the question: what could people be if they did not have institutional or economic barriers? I have seen the same situation for so many people who work hard but never seem able to catch up – whether they are hourly workers, formerly incarcerated individuals, or those on the other side of the racial wealth divide. So how do we open more doors with programs already in place? Through my own experience and through learning the experiences of my brave undocumented peers and their families, I can firsthand see the impact that policies like DACA can have as at least one solution. In allowing childhood arrivals to work, drive, and live without fear of deportation, DACA allows us to pursue our dreams and aspirations.

Despite the disappointing news that DAPA and DACA+, which would have given relief to thousands more, continue to be blocked in the Supreme Court, I think there is work to be done in making sure DACA benefits as many eligible people as possible.

Working at Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today, after where I have come from, feels like coming full circle. I’ve had the experience of being excluded, but I’ve since become included through programs like DACA. Now I am legally able to work at an organization like MAF, which advocates for those who are most in need. MAF is a nonprofit that provides the community with credit-building social loans and financial assistance with citizenship and DACA applications. MAF is a place where people are  treated with respect regardless of their economic, immigration, or language status. To me, working at MAF means that my work has a direct, tangible impact.

At MAF, I am helping hardworking people come out of the shadows and be part of something, as I myself had so desperately wanted before DACA.

This post was written by Diana Wong, DREAMSF Fellow at Mission Asset Fund

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