Cafecito con MAF: The Need to Power Through


The Need to Power Through

JUNE 2022


  • Details


    The pandemic turned all of our lives upside down, but millions of immigrants and their family members were excluded from the very relief that could have helped. Without it, how did immigrants weather the crisis? And in the face of such overwhelming need, how did MAF get cash grants into the hands of those who would benefit most from cash assistance? 

    Hear how MAF launched our Rapid Response Fund firsthand from two MAFistas: Rocio Rodarte, Policy and Communications Manager, and Joanna Cortez Hernandez, Director of the Engagement and Mobilize Team. Together, they share behind-the-scenes stories of how MAF listened to clients, partnered with other trusted community organizations, and leveraged technology to get more than 63,000 grants to students, workers, and immigrants excluded from federal COVID-19 relief.

  • Transcript

    The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    ROCIO: Welcome to Cafecito con MAF. A podcast about showing up, doing more, and doing better for people. We’re on a mission to help people become visible, active, and successful in their financial lives. Join us!

    DIANA: Offices were closed, banks… It was just like, if you find somebody on the phone, like MAF and many nonprofit organizations, they were shut down. So it was really hard to apply for this help on my own without a support system of: okay, I need this paper, I don’t know where to get it — those little details. It was hard to get finished from beginning to end.

    ROCIO: That was Diana, a working mom and entrepreneur who you met in our last episode. Diana touches on a real crucial aspect for surviving the pandemic: support. Delivering support in the form of cash aid through MAF’s Rapid Response Fund was an enormous task — more than 63,000 grants and $55 million across the country. 

    But it was a task that had to be completed thoughtfully, with respect for people’s experiences through COVID-19. Joining me here today to talk about just that is Joanna Cortez Hernandez, Director of our Engagement and Mobilize team. Hi Joanna, how are you?

    JOANNA: Hey Rocio, good morning, I’m doing well, how are you?

    Early wins & challenges of the Rapid Response Fund

    ROCIO: I’m good! Really excited to talk to you because you’ve been at MAF for a few years now, and you were here when we first launched the Rapid Response Fund, way back in March 2020. I know that probably feels like lightyears ago, but what do you remember from those early days? You know, what was happening on the ground? What did you consider as the big wins and challenges of the time?

    JOANNA: Yes, definitely feels like lightyears ago. And it was within really that first week where we were working remotely where I feel like we were all talking about what was happening and talking about what we were hearing from clients directly — when we got on the phones with them, when they reached out to us via email. And that’s when we really realized that this is real. Folks’ lives are being impacted in many different ways.

    And that was really the birth, if you will, of our Rapid Response efforts. We had three different Rapid Response efforts. We got kicked off with the California College Student [Support] Fund. That was the first Rapid Response effort that we kicked off. It kicked off in April. 

    It was…pretty wild because I remember that we set up an application. We were set with partnering with organizations and funders for this particular fund. And it was launch time, day one of opening up this fund. And within hours, I remember our phone lines were ringing off the hook. There were so many calls we were getting. There wasn’t even a break in between those calls. It was like, you would answer one call, you would hang up, and the phone would ring again. And so you’d answer the next call. And a lot of what we were hearing in those phone calls were folks who were interested in applying to that fund, but were having issues actually being able to apply.

    And so we were obviously in a panic mode. But we decided what was going to be best for us was to pull the application, to figure out what was happening on the backend of our systems, and instead replace it with a sign-up form — a temporary sign up form. So instead of the ask being “apply to receive a grant”, it was “please submit your personal information — we’re going to contact you once the application is live again.” 

    Again, this was all in the context of the California College Student [Support] Fund which was the first Rapid Response effort but, nonetheless, was pivotal in our Rapid Response journey as an organization. And, being able to, one, meet the needs in the communities we serve, but two, also thinking about: How we can be better set up internally to be able to meet those needs. And rise to the occasion that these times just put us in.

    ROCIO: Yeah, that’s crazy. And I think something I heard was that by July 2020, we had received more client inquiries in one month than in 10 years combined. Does this sound right?

    JOANNA: Yeahhh. Yes!

    Serving communities hit hardest by COVID-19

    ROCIO: You know, another thing I was thinking about it is — just to shed a little bit more light into the — who were the people applying? Who was coming to us? Who were you hearing from?

    JOANNA: As an organization, we’ve been really intentional about serving low-income and immigrant communities, communities of color. And we knew that those were the exact same communities that would be hit the hardest due to COVID, that would have the least to fall back on. So those are the folks we continue to focus our work around, who we really center our work around.

    So the folks applying for our Rapid Response relief were families with children; they were folks who were either sick with COVID themselves or had somebody in their household who was sick with COVID, had no to very little income as a result of the pandemic. 

    We heard things like, I lost my job due to the pandemic and I no longer have any income to support my family. And I’m very worried about how I’m going to pay rent or put food on the table for my children. There were many families who talked about the fact that their children shifted to online virtual learning. They were having to juggle — on top of the financial stress of the pandemic brought into their lives — they were also having to juggle that with being a teacher and helping their kids navigate online learning. 

    And so, those are just some of the points that I remember from the stories I heard and read throughout our Rapid Response efforts. Many I think are still very true today, right? Because we are still living through a pandemic, and folks are still being impacted by it in many ways, including in their financial lives. I hope that paints a picture for the folks we serve back in 2020 through the end of our Rapid Response efforts, but also, technically, the folks that we’re still serving today.

    Creating a financial equity framework

    The scale of our Rapid Response efforts was incredible. More than 200,000 people applied for relief through the Rapid Response Fund we had. Rocio, just based on your experience at MAF and the work you’re doing within and even outside of the evaluation team — I know it was hard to think through a framework of, who we say yes to, when the need is tremendous. Can you speak a bit more about that? Why would you say MAF didn’t fall back on a first-come, first-serve approach or a lottery system? And, more importantly, how did we figure out who to say yes to?

    ROCIO: Yeah, this is always a hard question to answer because the reality is that there was just such devastating need. And I think something we heard was that, if we had done a first-come, first-serve approach — so person one applies, we review the application, we give them the grant — we would have exhausted our existing funding at the time within the first 20 minutes. At that time we had more limited funding, we didn’t have the $55 million.

    And what we knew was: Who are the people applying first? They are the people who knew about it right away, who had the technology to apply right away, who had the time, who were able to step away from the classroom, their work, in order to apply. That’s not the reality of the people we serve. People work during the day, they have children to care for. 

    There’s so much complexity to their lives. We really wanted to enact a more thoughtful approach to who was ultimately going to get this grant. Again, given the circumstances of a pool of limited funding. In an ideal world, of course we’d love to give everyone the funding. That was not the reality we were dealing with. 

    So we took a step and we ultimately devised a financial equity framework. Another big thing for us was taking into consideration structural barriers: Such as you’re not getting a stimulus check because you’re an undocumented immigrant, if you’re a student, if you’re a foster youth, previously foster youth or DACA recipient. So these were some of the structural barriers that we were taking into consideration.

    Joanna, earlier you mentioned that there were some folks who lost their jobs or their entire income. We had to dig deeper and prioritize first those who had not just lost income — that was the original question — we had to ask specifically, did you lose your entire job? Do you now have a zero monthly income? For people who were supporting their families, that was the first original question, we had to dig even deeper to say, do you have small children under five? Do you have family members who have perhaps gotten sick with COVID? That’s another financial strain we took into consideration.

    So for all these three broad categories that we had, we ultimately had to dig deeper in order to prioritize people who could ultimately benefit the most from the relief, as we like to say.

    And something that I think is so striking when we reflect back on this is that, you know, the different parameters and pillars I talked about dealt with income, financial strains, structural barriers — but mostly financial really. Which is why we call it a financial equity framework. The crazy thing to us is that by using a financial equity framework, we reached more than 93% people of color. Again, to us that’s striking because we didn’t ask about race or ethnicity in the pre-application. But ultimately when we devised, when we really targeted people who had the most need, it ended up being people of color. And I think it’s just another way to think about how we target relief and how we offer support.

    And for us, that’s just a huge takeaway to see that by focusing on finances, we hit on so many intersectional issues that so many low-income communities face.

    JOANNA: Yeah, I think you hit on a really good point there, Rocio, about the intentionality behind the work. You said that there were these three pillars that we focused on as an organization to build out this financial equity framework. And we had to dig deeper in each of those in order to identify folks who had the least resources and who needed the most support. 

    ROCIO: Something else I wanted to say really quickly, Joanna, is also going back to — taking a step back and creating this financial equity framework in order to revamp our applications and give relief in this intentional way. That was done within like, a week and a half. 

    And I want to flag that because timing is everything for the way we do our work here at MAF. We wanted to give people timely cash assistance because they needed it ASAP. And it was a very complex framework overall, but at the end of the day, it was done very quickly. And again, going back to — we’ve been doing this work, we’re already in touch with clients, we talk to them, hear them, we listen to them, and that’s why we were able to do this so quickly. Because we already have this experience of working with them, of listening to them, and updating these frameworks live.

    JOANNA: Yeah, definitely.

    Collaborating with partners

    ROCIO: We didn’t do this work alone. We worked with incredible partners to reach more people. I know for example that you worked a lot with partners in San Mateo County, Joanna. Can you talk a little more about that? How did you collaborate with others? 

    JOANNA: Yeah, so, for our Immigrant Families Fund, we, as you said Rocio, we collaborated with San Mateo County to basically create the San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund.

    So we had this partnership where basically MAF — you could say — was an administer of this fund. We were the ones screening the pre-application, sending out the invitation to the full application, reviewing those applications, handling client inquiries about the fund and the application, making sure that the money was disbursed to folks who were approved for this fund.

    But there was also work we had to do to get the word out, and that’s really where that partnership was key with San Mateo County. Because we’re an organization based in San Francisco. One thing that we know is very true in all of our work — I’m thinking of Lending Circles — is the fact that we are not the experts of things happening in places outside of San Francisco. 

    And so we intentionally partner with organizations in those other places so that we can get our programs, our services, our resources out to those communities who might need them. Because at the end of the day, those organizations know their communities much better than we ever will. That’s true of our Lending Circles program but it’s also true of our Rapid Response efforts. That is why we partnered with San Mateo County, because we knew at the end of the day, these three organizations — Faith in Action, Legal Aid, and Samaritan House — knew their communities much better than we did. Knew the community of San Mateo County much better than we did. So we partnered with them to make sure the word got out and that folks were applying for these funds and that folks had access to these funds.

    Hearing from clients & designing a culturally-relevant survey

    But I know I’ve talked so much already about my experience with clients and with partners. Rocio, I’d love to hear more about your experience, specifically speaking and connecting with clients. Because I know you had the opportunity to interview so many of them as part of this large survey that we wrote out to immigrants excluded from relief. What was that like? Can you speak a little bit more about that survey? And even share more about the insights that you gained with just connecting with more of our clients?

    ROCIO: Something that’s very important to the way we do our work at MAF is not just giving — we knew people had needs and we wanted to give them timely cash assistance so they could meet their basic needs. But another thing that is very important to the way we do our work, in particular our evaluation, is making sure to follow-up to understand how the product, the service that we’re giving to people is really impacting their lives. 

    For us it was very important to create a culturally relevant survey that would try to capture the complexity of their experiences during the pandemic. This is why we were very intentional. This was a multi-month process of designing a survey as we were giving out cash assistance to follow up: to see how are you and your family doing during the pandemic? Financially, emotionally, health-wise, socially. We really wanted to capture the complexity of experiences by asking different types of questions. 

    We started designing the survey in July; we kept refining it in August. By the time we got to testing it – testing is critical to the work we do. And keep in mind that most of these sessions were in Spanish, because that was the primary language that immigrants who had received our grant — their first language. And everything translates differently in another language, and everything gets longer — the sentences are longer in Spanish. And so, trying to make sure like: Is this too much text? Do you understand the wording?

    And so I ended up doing about – more than 20 one-on-one sessions throughout the entire month. Most of them were in Spanish. I think it’s to date, it’s one of the highlights of the year and a half I’ve been at MAF, because it really was such a personal experience. Because these were Immigrant Family Fund grant recipients. Again, most of them were Spanish speakers; they’re all immigrants for the most part. Going into these sessions, I was a little nervous. Like, oh, I’m gonna talk to a stranger and ask them to answer all these very personal questions about their lives. I think something that just captivated me was just: how open they were to sharing their experiences. You know, at first they’re a little nervous and then they start going through the questions and they get comfortable; their answers start getting longer as it goes on. They start to get more personal. 

    At the end of the session, which on average took about an hour — just because we were taking our time with each part of it — one of my questions was always: is this too long? Did I lose you? I want to make sure we don’t have people dropping off as they’re answering these questions.

    And they always look so surprised. They’re like: No! Isn’t there more? I want to answer more questions. But I remember there was a particular situation where one person was like, you’re the only one who is asking me about my experience during the pandemic. I want to be able to share more so others know what it’s like to be left behind.

    And, that was generally the sentiment. I think that’s something that I found so heartbreaking. Because I could not believe — or maybe I could at a high level. At the end of the day, this is why we did this fund. Eleven and a half million immigrants and their families were excluded from stimulus checks, so there was a reason we were doing this, because they were excluded. But hearing it from one person, from two people, from 20 people, over and over again, saying like, no one else is asking me, I feel forgotten. You’re the only one who has asked me how I’m feeling during this pandemic. That was very touching. And again, I think it was a great reminder of the need to continue to power through — a reminder of why we do this work.

    Centering conversations around policy changes

    JOANNA: Yes, Rocio, and after hearing everything you’ve just shared right now, what just really comes up to mind for me is: Yes, listening to clients has always been at the center of our work. And that is how we’ve really risen to the occasion time and time again to meet the needs of communities that we serve — because we listen to those communities. And what you shared about the importance of that in our Rapid Response work, at a time when millions of people did not feel heard or seen I think is very important. And like you said, underscores the importance of our work and the people behind that work — you and I and many other MAFistas, right? 

    And it just makes me wonder — not wonder, think more about — how do we, through the incredible milestones that we were able to achieve through our Rapid Response efforts, from rolling out the application in the matter of a week, to being able to distribute more than $30 million in direct cash assistance by the end of 2020, to this large survey that was rolled that got over 11,000 responses… connecting all these dots is I know something that we’re in the process of doing and have been doing since the start of this Rapid Response effort. 

    And I think those dots to me are: creating this podcast, writing a research brief, which I know you are very well acquainted to. But I think it’s important for us as an organization to, and I want folks to know this, to be connecting these dots of all of these milestones of this important story, so that we’re able to continue to center conversations around what needs to be changing on a policy level for the clients that we serve that are experiencing and living through these hardships in real time. So I’m excited about where we’re going as an organization and talking more about our work and talking about it at a high level. Because I think there’s a lot of work that can be done, that needs to be done. 

    And we can’t do it alone. I think this is where partnerships come into play. Where policy conversations become ever more so important. So I look forward to all that’s ahead for us in that respect.

    ROCIO: Thanks for tying that together so beautifully, Joanna. That is exactly right.

    And for our listeners, today we talked a little bit about what it was like to take Rapid Response beyond MAF and our home base of San Francisco. Next week, we’ll actually be hearing directly from one of our partners who made this work possible, April Yee of the College Futures Foundation. 

    Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to podcasts, so you can catch the next episode as soon as it’s posted.

    And be sure to follow us online if you want to learn more about our work, join a free financial education class, or get more news and updates on Cafecito con MAF. We’re at and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Cafecito con MAF: They Need Me, I Need Them


They Need Me, I Need Them

JUNE 2022


  • Details


    In a single night, Diana, an entrepreneur and working mom, had to close her doggy daycare business, calling her clients one by one to inform them that the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing her to shut down her dream — at least temporarily. 

    Listen as Diana chats with Doris Vasquez, MAF Senior Client Success Manager. Diana details the challenges she faced as a business owner during the pandemic. But even in these difficult times, Diana found hope through strong community ties and support systems.

  • Transcript

    The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    ROCIO: Welcome to Cafecito con MAF. A podcast about showing up, doing more, and doing better for people. We’re on a mission to help people become visible, active, and successful in their financial lives. Join us!

    DORIS: Hello, everyone! My name is Doris Vasquez, and I’m a Senior Client Success Manager here at MAF and today’s podcast host. Last week, we heard a little bit from Diana, a business owner who runs her own dog walking and daycare business. And, like many other small businesses, she’s had to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 all while supporting her child, herself, and her dreams. 

    DIANA: I think it hit home once I had to close my business. I had to call every single one of my clients, say thank you, and remind them I was going to be here waiting for them. And not knowing who was eventually going to come back. And having no idea or expectation if I was losing my business that night, making those calls, or if things were going to go back to normal eventually. 

    Introducing Diana

    DORIS: Today, we’re taking a step back to learn more about the firsthand experiences of people working through COVID-19. Diana has been with MAF for about 10 years now. And she’s here today to share her own story. So, hi Diana! Thank you so much for being our special guest. Before we get started, can you tell us a little about yourself?

    DIANA: First of all, thank you Doris for having me here. I’ve been with your organization as a client — I don’t know if that’s the correct word because you guys are just a huge help for me and many new entrepreneurs. So my name is Diana. I’ve been running my own small business for about 10 years now. I started out back in 2012 with you guys, and that’s when I had just gotten everything: my permit, my business name, the whole thing. And I was very lucky to run into you guys because the help you guys have provided for me has just been vital to my growth and everything.

    Navigating the early days of the pandemic

    DORIS: That’s great, Diana. Thank you for sharing. I still remember the time that we did the application and did all the requirements for that business. I’m glad that it’s still blooming. But you know, we also wanted to talk about the time when the pandemic started, and how our community was impacted by the pandemic. Would you be able to share with me when you first started hearing about COVID-19? What was your initial reaction? Did you think it was going to impact your life, and if so, how was this pandemic going to impact your life? Did you have any idea?

    DIANA: So it’s funny. When I first heard about it, we were scared because we just knew it was happening out there — I think it was back in other countries and it was just starting to come here. I don’t think myself or anyone knew to what extent it would impact our daily routines. It was scary to hear about it, but I didn’t really have any expectations. I didn’t really know how it was going to impact every single area of our lives.

    I think it hit home once I had to close my business. So I think that was back on March 16, 2020 when I had to make those calls, because we were shutting down in San Francisco — all operations. And that night, I had to call every single one of our clients, say thank you, remind them that I was still going to be out here waiting for them, but just not knowing who was eventually going to come back. And having no idea or expectation if I was losing my business that night, making those calls. Or if things were going to back to normal eventually.

    Which, neither of those happened. It was kind of an in-between. I did lose over 40% of my clientele, because many of them stayed working from home. But I didn’t have an idea of how big it was going to impact my day-to-day life.

    Finding support through community

    DORIS: Yeah, I think a lot of people remember March 16. That’s a day that will be remembered in history, because we never lived like anything like this before. It must have been really hard for you calling your clients. Can you maybe share a little bit about what was the reaction? And if you were able to continue working during this crisis of March 16? 

    DIANA: The one thing I just have to say: every single one of my clients was very supportive. They’re more like friends and family to me, because I care for their doggies just like a family member every single day. So I build really strong bonds with each of my clients. So calling them, it was good to feel their support, it was really good to feel the love, how grateful they were for me. 

    But I just knew at the end of the day, I didn’t know who was going to lose their jobs. Many of them lost their jobs, many of them moved out of town. But, it just gave me hope. It gave me hope that regardless of who was going to be able to come back to daycare with us and who wasn’t, just knowing we were there for each other throughout it all. Even the ones who moved away. We still talk to each other.

    I think this time has been very — it’s brought the best in many of us. I know there have been bad things going on out there with crime and stuff, but the good kindhearted people — it brought out all the love, all the support. We were just there for each other. Not knowing how we were going to support each other, we were there offering. You know? 

    And that was just — I gotta say I feel really lucky and blessed to have the people I have in my life. You guys, my clients, my family — just really blessed.

    DORIS: Yeah, I hear you Diana. I think I have seen a lot of people doing good things, and that just says a lot about the community, and how close and how supportive they are of each other.

    But during the pandemic, I know you mentioned that you were a dog walker. Once you started going back to work, and walking your dogs, the fact that you had to meet people…I mean were you scared? Did you feel safe? How did you do it during the pandemic specifically? 

    Impacts to Diana’s business

    DIANA: If I can remember, I believe I started opening up my business two to three weeks after we closed down. Maybe three weeks. And the reason why we were able to start operating back sooner than other places, it’s because we are an outdoor daycare. So it was really tricky. I have this dog walking community on Facebook, and it was a lot of going back and forth — should we like? We were just very diligent about not breaking any of the rules — you know how rules kept updating and new information was coming out? We just wanted to make sure we were following all the rules and keeping everybody safe.

    When I started opening back up three weeks after, I changed many of my daily routines. I used to before — go to my clients’ homes, nobody would be there, pick up their puppy, put it in my car. I didn’t think of it twice. After, post-pandemic, when we started opening, I had hand sanitizer, I had gloves in the car, I had masks. Clients, if they were working from home, they would have to come out to meet me on the street, the sidewalk. I would not be able to come inside their houses.

    And if they were not home, I would sanitize my hands, put on my mask, open the door, come in, grab their doggie, go back to my car, sanitize my hands again. It was just sanitizing every exchange of dropping off and picking up.

    It’s funny. Now I’m not scared. Now I’m just following things that are now daily routines for all of us. Like sanitizing hands, putting a mask on. But at that time, three week, after we had closed, and I had opened back up, it still lingers in your head, because we didn’t even know — like even opening an Amazon package, I was using wipes and hand sanitizer. 

    So it was a little bit scary, especially because I do have a kid at home. My son is five. It was having that in the back of your head, of not dragging the virus back into your home, into your family. Right? It was like that for everyone. 

    Leaning on one another

    DORIS: And when you were making those changes, did you ever get a chance to talk to your clients? Did they share anything with you that maybe was affecting them emotionally? Or anything?

    DIANA: Yes. We became our own support system and therapists. If I was having a good day or a bad day, I’d share that with them. They’d try to make me laugh, I’d try to make them laugh. It was hard for many of them, working from home.

    I was really lucky we were an outdoor business. Because many people who were working from home all the time were on the verge of going into depression too. Because you’re not used to that. You need your social support systems so, yes, we became closer. 

    Oh, I have to say that —  before, I never saw any of my clients. They would always be working. I would just sign the contract and almost never see them for months at a time. This made every single one of those relationships so much stronger. Now I would say we’re more than just working together, they’re my friends, they’re my support system. They open up with me, I open up with them. We changed for the better.

    Finding resources

    DORIS: Where did you turn for help? Whether it was financial or anything?

    DIANA: So I was very lucky to have support systems at home, with my family. I was very lucky to have support systems with every one of our clients. They were very supportive. Some of them even paid me through the close-down. Many of them did. They just knew that they wanted me to be out here after we figured this out, so if they were able to afford it, they helped me out because they knew this was my only financial support for me and my family. 

    The other thing was my mom. She was so resourceful! She was the one calling me to go find the help. I don’t think I would be able to apply for many of them, because at the time, I was a sole proprietor, working by myself. My husband would sometimes help me, because one of us would be on parenting duty, and the other would be on pickup duty for the doggies. But I was a sole proprietor. I didn’t think of myself as a company.

    It took me a lot of time — maybe I lost a month or a little bit over — to find out that I could apply for help, counting myself as an employee. My company had one, and it was me. It took me a lot of time to figure that one out. I thought it was only for bigger companies who had employees outside of themselves, So thankfully, my mom was there to tell me “No, it wasn’t like that.” So I started calling places and applying for help, maybe a month after we closed our doors.

    DORIS: And during that search, did you feel that there was something missing?

    DIANA: Yes, the support to apply for stuff. It was very overwhelming coming out with all the requirements for many of this. Some of us are not that savvy with paperwork, so not having anybody in person… when I go to you guys, to your office, you guys would be able to walk me through every step of the way. So just being at home and not having that support system. Because at that time we were not that virtual back then. Now it’s normal after a year and a half. 

    But at the beginning, you had no support system. Offices were closed, banks… It was just like, if you find somebody on the phone, like MAF and many nonprofit organizations, they were shut down. So it was really hard to apply for this help on my own without a support system of: okay, I need this paper, I don’t know where to get it — those little details. It was hard to get finished from beginning to end.

    Never giving up on your dreams

    DORIS: Yeah, I’ve actually heard that from a lot of our clients too. Now that I think… the pandemic, it’s been with us for a year and half, right? What are your hopes, Diana, for post-pandemic? For the future? For things going back to the way they were? Is there anything that you’re looking forward to?

    DIANA: One, I feel really blessed. I don’t feel like my life has changed a lot, just because my job has always been by myself. But post-pandemic, the one thing from my personal experience, is not just having one source of income that I’m dependent on. 

    I had a big awakening during that time. And instead of looking outwards, I started looking inwards. So I started a personal growth journey on my own. I was like, “Oh my God, nothing’s permanent.” You could have a job and might feel like you’re set, but something like this could happen and it throws everything off. And your life depends on it. Your kid, your dogs, everything.

    It was a wake up call to spread out my — how do they say, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” So I started learning about investing. I started learning about personal growth. I started working on my mindset.

    So I think post-pandemic, it would be for people to know that they have options, to not go back to depending on one company, or one thing, or one job, because if that’s gone, your security — everything goes with it. So post-pandemic, I wish for everyone to make more options for themselves, so that they’re not in the situation I was in and many of us — thousands and millions were in.

    The other thing would be — I feel like pre-pandemic, many of us were just telling ourselves we’re just busy. We’re so busy working. Post-pandemic, you’re like, I really need to build these relationships because they’re my community. They need me, I need them. And community-building is vital for not getting depressed, for staying positive. 

    So I am a part of a dog walking community on Facebook, and we just kept cheering for each other, referring clients. Some of my clients were moving into a different neighborhood, even another city, or state — we just had this dog walking daycare community where we would just refer business to one another. It was a vital part of surviving. You gotta take the time out to socialize and get to know your brothers and sisters out there doing all types of amazing dreams, even if it’s not related to your immediate business. It’s so rewarding. After you do it, you’re like, “Oh my God, I’ve been missing out in getting to know this amazing man, this amazing woman, for doing this for the community.” We were missing out before just staying in our lane. Now it’s like, no, we have to help each other out to make it out stronger.

    DORIS: Thank you! That’s the key thing, right? Never give up on your dreams. I really appreciate you sharing with us everything that you’ve gone through — from the beginning of your business through the pandemic to the inspiring words that you are sharing with people. I really appreciate the relationship you have with MAF and all the support you’ve provided us as well. So thank you so much, Diana. I wish you the best in your business — for it to keep growing, for more doggies, for it to keep expanding. So thank you. We wish you the best.

    DIANA: Thank you so much, Doris, for having me here. I could not have gotten this far with my business without organizations like MAF and so many small business organizations in the city — and all around California too. But I’m just so grateful I have you guys on my team. 

    DORIS: Of course. And we’ll always be here for you, Diana. And for our listeners, thank you so much for being with us for this episode. Next week, we’ll return to the story of the Rapid Response Fund, and the huge effort it took to deliver thousands of grants to immigrants across the country during a dire time. See you then.

    ROCIO: Thanks for listening to Cafecito con MAF! Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to podcasts, so you can catch the next episode as soon as it’s posted.

    And be sure to follow us online if you want to learn more about our work, join a free financial education class, or get more news and updates on Cafecito con MAF. We’re at and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Cafecito con MAF: Do More, Do Better


Do More, Do Better

JUNE 2022


  • Details


    Welcome to Cafecito con MAF, a podcast about showing up and doing more. More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like everyone is waiting to “get back to normal.” But for the millions of immigrant families, students, and workers excluded from stimulus checks and federal COVID-19 relief, the struggle is far from over.

    In this first episode, join MAF CEO José Quiñonez and MAF Policy & Communications Manager Rocio Rodarte to hear the untold story of those left behind. They discuss the financial devastation of immigrant families, the enormous challenge of delivering $55 million in cash assistance, and a call to action that’s more relevant than ever: show up, do more, and do better.

  • Transcript

    The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    ROCIO: Welcome to Cafecito con MAF. Since 2007, MAF has worked to bring low-income and immigrant households out of the financial shadows. How do we do this? By building on what is already good in people’s lives and listening at every step in their journeys. Today, we invite you to do the same!

    Hi everyone, my name is Rocio Rodarte and I’m a policy and communications manager at MAF and your podcast host for today’s very special episode. This is our first podcast ever. And throughout the first season, we’ll tell the story of how MAF and the people we serve responded to COVID-19. The pandemic has been an unimaginable struggle for everyone, including immigrants and small business owners like Diana.

    DIANA: It was scary to hear about it. But I didn’t really have any expectations. I didn’t really know how it was going to impact every single area of our lives. I think it hit home once I had to close my business. I was like, Oh my God, nothing’s permanent. You could have a job and might feel like you’re set, but something like this could happen and it throws everything off. And your life depends on it. Your kid, your dogs…everything.

    ROCIO: Diana was just one of many people trying to adapt to this new reality, one that has been especially unforgiving for immigrants left without a social safety net.

    And while COVID-19 may have shocked people with its impact, this, unfortunately, isn’t new. But more on that later. First, I’d like to introduce you to today’s guest and the person who’d know best. He’s none other than our founder and CEO, José Quinonez.

    JOSÉ: Hi Rocio. So glad to be here talking to you about this important topic.

    ROCIO: Yeah, thanks for being here. I’m here with my cafecito and really excited to have this conversation with you today. So—

    JOSÉ: I’m on to my third cafecito of the day.

    ROCIO: Same! I didn’t want to out myself, but same.

    Focusing on those left last and least

    ROCIO: I’d love to start this conversation by talking about the work MAF has done in the last year and a half in response to this pandemic. We raised $55 million for our Rapid Response Fund to provide more than 63,000 grants to students, workers, and immigrant families all over the country. Forty-eight states in total. This number is a huge feat, but it’s also really sobering. It demonstrates a massive gap in equity, one that organizations like ours are going to be meeting for years to come.

    José, for an organization like MAF which has historically focused on credit-building loans, what did this shift mean?

    JOSÉ: You know Rocio, every time I think about what we experienced in the past year, I’m always in awe about the amount of work that we were able to produce so quickly. And it’s incredible. Just to look back and really see that we touched over 63,000 people by giving much needed grants in a time that they were being excluded from receiving assistance from other sources.

    It’s mind boggling, frankly, how a small nonprofit organization headquartered in San Francisco was able to be in a position to disburse so much money to so many people.

    But not only that, it’s not just about the 63,000 number — it’s about how specific we were able to target those grants, that aid, that help to people who were excluded from receiving financial assistance. People who are low-income, immigrant, people that were really contending with a lot of barriers in their financial lives.

    Because it wasn’t just to anybody. We didn’t do an application process that was first-come, first serve. We didn’t disburse this money on a lottery basis. It wasn’t to everybody who submitted an application. We focused this very critical aid to people who were the last and the least, the people who were excluded from receiving other sources of help.

    Every time I think about that, I’m blown away by it. Because I’m like, “How did it happen?” How were we able to step up in such a way, and to be so thoughtful in focusing on those communities?

    And of course, Rocio, it was 14 years of work that actually led to that point of us making it happen, in the way that we did. There’s a lot more to be said about that because it didn’t just happen overnight.

    It’s an incredible process. It wasn’t that we were transformed; it was actually that we were building up over the years to be able to deliver at this critical moment.

    ROCIO: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’m wondering if instead of a shift or a transformation, it’s more of a revamp. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and it’s almost like we were kind of preparing for something like this to happen, and then when it happened, we were ready to go. We were ready to meet our clients where they were like we have for such a long time. Thank you for sharing that, José.

    The cost of exclusion for immigrant families

    ROCIO: And so now — the need was tremendous because millions of immigrants and their families were completely shut out of federal government [aid]. To paint a clearer picture of what this means, a family with two undocumented parents and two children was denied upward of $11,400 in much-needed federal relief during the pandemic.

    That is huge. I mean we’re talking about families who lost so much — some even lost their entire income during this pandemic. And they were denied critical aid that could’ve helped them pay their rent, put food on the table, and feed their families. I just want to stress the incredible loss that that created in their lives.

    But, of course, none of this is new. Because before the pandemic, many immigrant people were living in the shadows and pushed out of a social safety net that was not designed for them. A safety net that they pay into, every single year. It’s reported that in 2019, immigrant workers with ITINs paid more than $23 billion in federal taxes alone. And these are taxes that fund critical social safety net programs from Medicaid, to food stamps, to housing subsidies and insurance — the list really goes on. And they are programs that they themselves are barred from accessing, even when the whole world is thrown into crisis.

    So, José, what is this context? This context of being barred from benefits to exclusion, mean for MAF’s work?

    JOSÉ: I think this pandemic really showed a lot of the injustices that we’ve been fighting against over the years. So the idea of people being denied services in their time of need is not new. This has been the case for immigrants for years now. Even when they are the ones paying their taxes and contributing to the tax base, they’re actually being denied assistance left and right.

    There was a public charge policy from the prior administration that really sent this ripple effect of fear that people were now more fearful of reaching out for assistance when they need help because they did not want to be deemed a public charge. That could go against their petitions for legalization at some point. And so that fear kept a lot of people from accessing help especially when they need it.

    But that’s just one point. There are many others where people were actually excluded from receiving help. You mentioned that $11,000 that could’ve gone to immigrant families. I think about that number a lot because it wasn’t just the fact of not receiving that $11,000. It was what happened after that, because in not receiving $11,000 to help them stabilize their financial lives during the midst of a pandemic, it meant that they had to access that money somewhere else.

    What basically happened was that people were forced to use all of their savings. They were forced to acquire loans in any which way they could, from maxing out credit cards or getting loans from family and friends just to pay rent and buy food.

    So it wasn’t just the lack of $11,000. Now they’re $11,000 in debt. And that debt is not payable just right off the bat. It’s going to take them months and years to pay that off and with that debt comes interest, comes other fees, comes other things where people are digging themselves deeper into a hole that could’ve been prevented by having access to that money just like everyone else in America, people that needed it.

    ROCIO: José, you bring up so many great points that I would love to run with every single point you said, because there’s so many thoughts I have for sure. But the thing that I want to come back to is the idea of timing, and how timing is everything in people’s lives. Last year, what we did with the Immigrant Families Fund — we stepped up to give people cash at the specific time where they needed it the most so they could pay their rent that same month.

    And just thinking about this debt while they are being excluded from all these benefits that could help them catch up in the process is just an array of problems that I think we need to continue to put out there and address.

    Inspiring others to step up

    ROCIO: And so, that’s why the work we’re doing is so important. Because if we don’t show up, who will? I actually wanted to ask you about this, José. How do you inspire people to step up to the plate?

    JOSÉ: I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I think for us, of course, we did step up with this Rapid Response Fund grant process in the past 18 months. But we couldn’t have done this ourselves of course. We had to work with philanthropy. We had over 65 different partners in philanthropy that really stepped up with us, because they were the ones who had the capital, they were the ones who provided us with the funding so that we could direct it to people who needed it.

    So we had to build those partnerships in a way that mattered. I think for us, it was just a question of saying, “Look, we’re here to do this work, we want to do this work, we have the capacity to do this work, we have the technology to do this work.” But more importantly, we had the relationships with the actual clients, trusted relationships so that we can say that we can actually deliver this money now, in the moment that they needed it, and doing it in a way that is efficient, that is effective, and also dignified.

    And I think because of that, because we were able to communicate that—not just from Rapid Response— but from over the years. I think foundations were able to trust us with their capital. We had foundations, we had family foundations, we had community foundations, we had corporate foundations, that we never worked with in the past. They leaned on us to make sure that we were able to deliver that money to people in a timely manner.

    To me, inspiring people to step up, really is about making sure we had a very solid foundation of trust with our clients and our partners. Because we were essentially just a conduit of their desire to help people.

    Launching MAF’s Rapid Response Fund

    ROCIO: I want to take a step back and rewind to March 2020 when the Rapid Response Fund didn’t yet exist and COVID-19 was just starting to hit the U.S. in a major way. Jose, even before the pandemic struck here in the U.S. and the first stay-at-home orders were issued, MAF was already preparing for what all of this would mean for immigrant families in the U.S.

    Take us back to those days. I know it feels like an eternity ago, but, what was happening? What was going through your head? What were you feeling?

    JOSÉ: It does feel like an eternity away. That’s what I call the “before times.” I do remember in February having internal conversations about, “there’s this thing that’s going around in China that’s popping up in the news and we should start thinking about how to prepare for something like that.” And I recall some conversations about that. But when it really struck home was when the mayor of San Francisco issued her first stay-at-home orders. That’s when we had to pivot from one day to the next day.

    And I remember the order came in on a Friday and by Monday we had to sort of work from home. And by that day, over the weekend really, we had to come up with a plan with how we were going to respond to help our clients. Knowing that that stay-at-home order meant that people were going to lose income, they were going to lose money, they were going to lose hours from work, they were going to lose their jobs at no fault of their own.

    Come Monday, we were already talking about how to respond to this crisis that we didn’t know much about. That same day, I was getting calls from foundations as well, saying “Hey, how are you guys going to respond?” Because at that point, over the 14 years of doing this work, we built that reputation already, so foundation heads were already calling and emailing asking how we were going to respond in this moment.

    So because of that, we very quickly stood up that Rapid Response Fund — not knowing how, to what extent, or how much we were going to make this happen. But when we got our first grant approved — I think it was within Tuesday or Wednesday of that same week — it was a conversation with the head of College Futures [Foundation], because they wanted to support college students in California. So we used that grant so we could stand up this particular way of Rapid Response, focusing on college students first. And while we were doing that, we were building that whole infrastructure of helping other communities as well.

    It was a moment of complete confusion. We didn’t know what was going to happen or how long the stay-at-home order was going to stay. But I think we knew deep down it was going to impact the people we serve the hardest. We knew deep down that undocumented immigrants, families — people that we work with day in and day out — we knew that they were going to be most hit by the loss of income and also because they weren’t going to get any support from the federal government. We needed to show up for them, and we did. This was one of those moments where we’ve been working for the past 14 years building our technology, our capacity, our staff, our skills, and our insights.

    When I think back to that week, and being forced to work from home, not being in the office where we can huddle together, strategize together, it was pretty scary, frankly. But that fear, I just remember using that as fuel to make sure that we showed up who needed help the most.

    Sense of togetherness

    ROCIO: Everything you just shared, José, I think brings up a lot of feelings, as I’m hearing you talk. You’re describing confusion, chaos, uncertainty, fear — also hope and collective action. And so what I’m wondering is: of all the things, all the craziness that was happening, all the chaos and uncertainty, at that moment back in March 2020, what would you say is the most surprising thing that happened to you? Of all the things, all the balls that were up in the air, what was the most surprising thing for you?

    JOSÉ: The most surprising thing, frankly, was how fast the sentiment dissipated, the sentiment of us being united, the sentiment that we needed to come together as a country, as a people, and how fast that went away. Because early on, I remember feeling that, I remember hearing that, I remember reading that from our leaders. Because we knew — it was a big unknown.

    But as soon as this report that talked about the racial disparities, of who was getting COVID and who wasn’t getting COVID, I remember that that sentiment just kind of went away. That sense of urgency dissipated. The sense of coming together — that was just an afterthought now. Because this disease, this virus was impacting people of color more. And so, “it doesn’t matter.”

    And other people were taking a step back from the urgency of “together”. And I feel like that moment was really the turning point in our fight against COVID, that if we would’ve kept that sense of togetherness, that sense of coming together — as a country, as a people — to battle this, I think we would be in a completely different situation than the one we’re in now.

    I think we just crossed over the 700,000 people that have died just in the U.S. alone from COVID. I mean, 700,000 people have died. And I think that number wouldn’t have been that high if we would’ve kept that sense of, we need to be united in this fight against COVID.

    That surprised me. And that hurt, actually. That hurt because it was the sense that, “Oh, well, if this is just going to impact people of color, then who cares?” And I’m sad that happened. That was surprising and hurtful most of all.

    We’re still here

    ROCIO: Thank you for sharing that, José. Everything you’ve just discussed — I feel like I’ve heard little bits and snippets here and there, and I still get chills hearing about that moment in time, hearing that experience of what everyone at MAF and yourself went through, and trying to step up and trying to garner support from others and trying to reaffirm and tell the world that there were people being excluded and we needed to do something about it. It sounds like you could easily write a book about that moment in time, those early beginnings.

    And my question to you, José, is: what would you title that story? Given what you just said, in a few words?

    JOSÉ: You know, I think about MAF in that regard and everything that we’re doing. I think what we’re demonstrating is: what does it take to show up for the people who have been left behind, people who have been ignored, people who are in the margins of society? What does it take to show up and provide something of meaningful contribution and meaningful support?

    I think for me it’s something around: We’re still here. That despite this pandemic, despite the pain and the hurt, despite being pushed out. Not just during this pandemic, but over the years, over the millennia of being colonized twice over, that we’re still here, and we still matter, and we need to do all that we can to show up, and support one another, however we can. And when we do that, do better. When we think we’ve done enough, we do more.

    ROCIO: So in a nutshell, it sounds to me like the work continues.

    José, any last words for our listeners today?

    Show up, do more, do better

    JOSÉ: I want to thank you, Rocio, for having this conversation with me today. I know most of the time we just talk about work—

    ROCIO: It’s fun work!

    JOSÉ: It is, but it’s always great to sort of step back for a second and just reflect on all that we’ve created together, so I really enjoy that. I would say that as a message for everybody, this is the moment not for us to shrink, not for us to become invisible. This is the moment for us to show up, to do more, and to do better. And I think that’s our call to action.

    But I think that’s something that we can all do, particularly in the nonprofit world. We need to do more, we need to do better for the people left behind.

    ROCIO: Yes — show up, do more, do better, because we’re still here. Thank you so much, José, for speaking with us today.

    And for our listeners, the work continues! Join us next time to listen to Diana — who you heard on this podcast just a few minutes ago — sharing her experiences of being a small business owner and a working mom through COVID-19. See you next time!

    Thanks for listening to Cafecito con MAF!

    Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to podcasts, so you can catch the next episode as soon as it’s posted.

    And be sure to follow us online if you want to learn more about our work, join a free financial education class, or get more news and updates on Cafecito con MAF. We’re at and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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IGNITE: Connect, Reflect, Innovate

IGNITE Partner Convening: We Shine Brighter Together

Like fireflies coming together in the night sky, we shine brighter when we’re together. In that spirit, Lending Circles providers from across the country convened for the first time in nearly two years for IGNITE: Connect, Reflect, Innovate. 

We gathered around the “virtual table” to reflect on the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrate our partners who showed up for their communities, and learn from one another. With interactive workshops, guest speakers, games, and music, IGNITE was a day full of connection. We also unveiled a new offering for partners: MyMAF, a mobile app that puts a financial coach in people’s pockets. Read on for session highlights and event recordings.

Welcome & Fireside Chat

Incredible leaders Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez from La Cocina and Ahmed Mori from Catalyst Miami joined MAF CEO José Quiñonez for a fireside chat on what it means to show up, especially when times are hard. 

Since La Cocina works with entrepreneurs in the food and hospitality industry, Debbie described how 100% of La Cocina organizations experienced some version of furlough, layoff, or shutdown in 2020. Despite this, La Cocina still managed to open the nation’s first women- and women of color-led food hall during the pandemic. How? By turning outward and launching a $2 million food security program that met the needs of the community. Ahmed described how Catalyst Miami likewise adapted to meet changing realities – launching a new program geared towards microbusinesses in the summer of 2020. 

Igniting the Fire
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

After two difficult years, how can we keep our fire going and continue to show up, do more, and do better for the people we serve? Two ways: turn to community for solutions and rely on trusted partners who do the same. As Debbie shared, “There’s an expression… ‘you always have to find a way out of no way’… in the worst times, we in our community have the ability to discover and enact a solution.” 

Ahmed agreed, emphasizing the importance of working with partners who share a commitment to justice: “Hearing that folks in community want to create new systems in the cracks of the old..and in the cracks of the failed systems that oppressed them — that is ultimately what keeps me going.” Their fireside chat set the tone and energy for the day!

Sparking Innovation: Lessons Learned from Lending Circles

In Sparking Innovation, Marjan Nadir from Refugee Women’s Network, Rose Mary Rodriguez from Pathfinders, and Henry Rucker from Project for Pride in Living shared how they adapted their Lending Circles programs to meet the challenges clients were facing during the pandemic. Refugee Women’s Network even launched its first Lending Circle during COVID-19. Some of our partners’ learnings? 

Sparking Innovation
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder
  • During COVID-19, people had a greater need for building up savings. Lending Circles are a powerful tool to build a nest egg safely.
  • Local leaders and clients can help establish trust and buy-in with other community members. Henry explained how local church leaders and barbers became trusted advocates for Lending Circles in their communities.
  • Finally, participate in a Lending Circle yourself! When staff have firsthand experience, they’re better able to share the benefits to others. 

Shining a Light: Undocumented Immigrants during COVID-19

Millions of immigrant families were excluded from federal COVID-19 relief and had to dig into savings and take on debt just to survive. In Shining a Light, practitioners offered real and innovative ways we can support immigrants as they rebuild during the pandemic, drawing on insights from MAF’s national survey of immigrants excluded from federal COVID-19 relief. We can start by offering more social safety net support to immigrants, providing more assistance to people getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and partnering with key organizations to reach more immigrant communities. 

The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket

As we rely more heavily on technology to stay connected, we’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively to partners. Efrain Segundo, MAF’s Financial Education and Engagement Manager, demonstrated MyMAF’s financial education modules, actionable tools, and other exciting features to help communities take control of their finances.

The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

Why MyMAF? MyMAF is a tech tool designed specifically for the people we serve. It is bilingual, accessible, and culturally relevant. 

As one Lending Circles provider shared, “I can’t say enough how much I love this app…I love how aligned it is with our coaching approach.”

If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, reach out to [email protected] for more information.

Fueling the Hustle: Entrepreneurism during COVID-19

Small business owners juggled a lot during the pandemic — everything from closings to reopenings, changing guidelines, and capital challenges. Through it all, entrepreneurs navigated these challenges with creativity and determination. Two entrepreneurs, Tahmeena and Reyna, shared how Lending Circles helped them build credit and grow their businesses. 

Entrepreneurism during COVID-19
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

Tahmeena used the $1,000 she saved through Lending Circles to purchase merchandise and start an online boutique called Takho’z Choice. In just three months, her small business was turning a profit. Reyna of La Guerrera’s Kitchen reflected how her mother had taught her about tandas, so she was familiar with the Lending Circles concept. Because Lending Circles allow people with ITINs to establish credit, they are an incredible resource. Reyna also noted the importance of providing immigrant entrepreneurs with mentorship and legal services alongside financial services.

Kindling Adaptability: Connection in a Virtual World

At MAF, we talk a lot about meeting people where they are. And over the past two years, that’s meant meeting clients online. How can we continue to provide relevant and timely financial services to clients in a virtual space? Casa Familiar’s Yessenia Sanchez and The Resurrection Project’s Sandy Guzman joined financial coaches from MAF to share best practices for “waving clients” into the virtual office—and how they kept things in perspective when things got tough. 

MAF Financial Coaching Manager Liliana Hernandez shared a quote from Mother Teresa that inspired her: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This focus on serving the person in front of her helped take client-driven financial coaching to another level during the pandemic.


A celebration isn’t the same without music, and we were fortunate to have not one, but two musical performances during IGNITE. DJ OME kicked off the day with a lively set that perfectly set the tone for IGNITE. One attendee shared that DJ OME’s set was a better way to start the day than coffee — and we agree! And Analia and Ruben, two MAF clients, gave an incredible mariachi performance to close out our time together. 

Keeping the Spark Alive

How will you keep the spark aflame?

At the start of IGNITE, José shared: “In our communities, there are always different crises. It requires leaders to show up and do something, and do more, and do better. And I appreciate the people who are just doing it.” It’s clear that the MAF partner network is full of leaders doing just that: showing up and doing the hard work. With their leadership, we can ignite the fire that transforms recovery into reality.

We’ll continue to learn from our partners and we can’t wait to celebrate them again during MAF’s Quinceañera — coming up this September 15th! Stay tuned for more opportunities to keep these sparks alive.

We’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively for our partners. If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, please get in touch at [email protected] for more information.

Between Lands, Languages, y Culturas: Iván’s Story

Iván, a poet based in the San Fernando Valley, experiments with words, images, and sound as he navigates the world. Recently, he’s had to navigate a lot, from his undocumented status to the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests around police brutality and social justice. These moments are at the forefront of conversations, and he uses his voice to fiercely advocate for these issues.

Iván’s identity and upbringing are woven throughout his creations. Born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, Iván and his family immigrated to the United States when he was ten years old. Due to his legal status in the U.S., he has not returned to Mexico to visit his grandparents and exists in a state of Nepantla: in-between lands, languages, and cultures. 

“A lot of the time, I feel a wanting to break myself free from this repression of not being able to travel freely,” shares Iván.

His undocumented status serves as inspiration, and writing is his healing process. In Rayita en el cielo (full poem below), Iván shares the difficulties of growing up undocumented while staying connected to family in Mexico. The poem is inspired by the phrase, “Voy a hacer una rayita en el cielo”, meaning “I’m going to make a line in the sky,” something his grandfather tells him after not having talked in a while because their schedules do not align.

“‘Voy a hacer una rayita en el cielo’ is a phrase said to celebrate when someone has done something positive or unusual,” Iván describes. 

“His voice is raspier
than it was eight years ago
when I last hugged him at the terminal
before his flight back home
since then I’ve only heard
his voice filtered through metals, traveling
through fiber-optic lines & satellites.”

An avid music fan, Iván grew up listening to the songs of Rock en Español bands. He discovered Calle-13, an unapologetic hip-hop band and a master of wordplay. He paid close attention to the lyrics and wanted to replicate the metaphors himself. Without realizing it, Iván was writing poetry. He began taking his craft more seriously when he was a sophomore in college and discovered poets of the Beat Generation, identifying with their rebellion and non-conformity with mainstream American culture. Inspired by the Chicano poets and undocumented poets who utilized art to speak out about their stories, Iván continued writing poetry.

As he experiences the present, Iván seeks answers from the past. “My universal poetry themes are immigration and restorative justice. My writing is experimental and avant-garde. I’m also interested in technology, and mixed media is often within my work,” Iván explains. 

“Papá David walks around
Tenochtitlan for me
He picks up some books and takes photos in
la plaza de tlatelolco
He reconnects with the ruins
and I’m there with him.”

From his roots in Mexico, Iván strives to connect more with the indigenous languages found in Mexico with the hopes of it being studied and spoken more widely. These days, he spends time researching historical events to understand what we are currently living through while finding direction towards the future.

During the pandemic, Iván was forced to look for other job opportunities.

He struggled to make ends meet as a delivery driver, but after receiving a $500 grant from MAF’s LA Young Creatives Fund, he was able to buy a laptop and edit his resume. With this new technology, he continued his artistic endeavors and found work in his field: a summer internship learning about local organizing. He also participated in a collective art project to uplift stories of undocumented and deported communities in Mexico and the U.S.

Iván is currently working on a collection of poems he hopes will soon be published. He continues supporting and showcasing other San Fernando Valley writers and artists as a fellow at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts and Assistant Editor for Drifter Zine. He plans to travel more with his partner and family and envisions reuniting with his grandparents soon.

Iván’s advice to aspiring writers?

“Start publishing your work and read it out loud at open mics. It’s an intro to seeing other poets read their work and what it’s like. Having the courage to read your own stuff is very helpful to develop your voice as a writer. But overall, I think that writers should write for themselves.

The LA Young Creatives Fund supported 4,800+ artists like Iván and closed last month. You can find more information about the LA Young Creatives Fund here

To read more of Iván’s poetry, see Rayita en el cielo below and visit his website. You can also find him on Instagram @ivansali_ 

Rayita en el cielo
By Iván Salinas

Papá David will draw a line in the sky
Today is a miracle
I’ve answered the phone

Q ovo mi niño, hasta que me contestas
¿Estás trabajando?

It’s not my day off
I did work today
but I’m driving back home
and there’s time
to talk

His voice is raspier
than it was eight years ago
when I last hugged him at the terminal
before his flight back home
since then I’ve only heard
his voice filtered through metals, traveling
through fiber-optic lines & satellites

It’s easier to communicate this way
It’s easier
than getting on a plane 
where you’re asked for papeles 

I ask him: ¿Cómo está mi mamá Pera?
Bien, hijo…ya sabes. He says, indifferent.

Life is the same
siempre bien 
for Papá David y Mamá Pera
it’s my life that’s constantly changing.

Back home, en la vecindad
my friends
all still children
in my memory
they’re now grown up
raising their families
in the same rooms we had    
Mamá Pera says this will always be my home
and it will be here
for when we return.

Paseo de la reforma. México, D.F., Enero, 2022.  Photo taken by Papá David.

Mamá Pera always tells me to pray
And I never do
But I know she prays for me
And that I do believe in.

Mira, cuando tengas tiempo tu dile a diosito, echame la mano
Y verás que te va ayudar 

But I can’t remember the last time I looked up at the sky
and asked diosito for any help.    

When I call Papá David over the phone
he just wants to know
when am I gonna make it?
Why don’t I apply for a job as a TV reporter for Univision?
I hate being on camera and I change
the subject, I ask him if he’s heard
the statue of Colon is being removed
en el paseo de la reforma
replacing it
with the statue of a mujer indigena

–Si, te voy a mandar unas fotos pa’ que las veas, ahorita tienen una réplica
–Órale, aqui tambien estan derribando unas estatuas de las misiones. Te mando unas fotos. 

The statues in the missions
are also taken down in this valley
Papá David likes to mention there’s Spanish blood in him
Mamá Pera y Papa David forget
somos de sangre indigena. 

Papá David walks around
Tenochtitlan for me
He picks up some books and takes photos in
la plaza de tlatelolco
He reconnects with the ruins
and I’m there with him.

While we wait for papeles
and go to appointments in consulates and aduanas
with lawyers and customs
we only see
each other’s faces
reconstructed in pixels

I tell Mamá Pera
she can visit
while Papá David waits for her.
I tell Papá David: “Ya merito, ya veras.
Quizás hasta yo te alcanze allá en unos años”

Tlatelolco, México D.F. Enero, 2022. Photo taken by Papá David.

Every time we talk
They’re just happy to hear my voice. 
I’m fortunate they can hear me say los amo, los extraño
Los quiero volver a abrazar.

While we wait for papeles
phone calls will keep us together
Fotos de Papá David will keep us connected
to home. So I still recognize it.

While we wait,           
I will make time
to answer the phone
Papá David & Mamá Pera
can draw another line in the sky

AAC Member Karen Law

Champion Spotlight: Meet Karen Law

We each have only one life. What do we do with it? Karen Law found her answer on a stage in a crowded community theater.

Karen is one of those people who commit fully to their values. Most recently, she committed to joining MAF’s Adelante Advisory Council (AAC), a committee whose members play a key role in building awareness and cultivating financial support for MAF. We’re thrilled to benefit not only from her broad skillset, but her even greater perspective.

Karen is not one to shy away from life’s big questions.

Having been diagnosed with cancer in her early twenties, Karen couldn’t afford to leave these questions to the never-arriving “someday.” Her core values were defined early on and crystallized further when she received a terminal diagnosis for her husband of 10 years.

“I accompanied my husband Eric through the final 14 months of his life; living life intensely and intentionally using the end as the starting point,” she recounts.

More than anything else, the value of community defined Karen’s life during this time.

As word spread in her network of Eric’s condition, the couple found themselves at the center of a web of care, support, and humanity. 

Karen started a private Facebook group to share periodic health updates to a few friends and family. Soon the group swelled to over 900 members, each willing to do anything in their power to provide support.

“I felt I could just ask and someone would find an answer,” she explains. “That community could have done anything.”

Fourteen months after the diagnosis, Eric passed away. Karen reflected on the feeling she was now living for two lives. She looked to the rest of her years, knowing each day was to be treasured, and began to wonder what she had to offer the world. 

Intuition provided an answer. Since the passing of her husband, Karen had found herself drawn to the potential of alternate resources, ignoring traditional boundaries between philanthropy, venture capital, and volunteering.

Like MAF, Karen realized the best of finance could be put to work in service of community.

“I’d seen how powerful it was to organize people around a common goal,” she shared. “I wondered, ‘What would it look like if communities came together like this when there ISN’T a crisis?’”

This question led Karen to founding Infinite Community Ventures, a fund that draws from across philanthropy and private investing to “build and strengthen communities through Sustainability, Equitable Empowerment, and the Arts.”  

Resolved, Karen is putting her remaining years to work in service of community, passing forward what she’d received in abundance during her husband’s final months. She is now leveraging the resources, skills, and knowledge she has for those left in the shadows.

“Community to me is when you say, ‘Let me look at your problems as my own, and share what I have with you,’” Karen explains. “It’s really quite simple.”

In this, we at MAF see eye to eye. Karen first learned of MAF through her local community foundation. MAF was a grant recipient and we quickly saw in each other a shared understanding of community as a continual process of reaching out, listening, and connecting with authenticity.

“The MAF team was the only one who reached out to me and asked, ‘Who are you, and what’s your interest in financial empowerment?’ I have deep admiration for and am always happy to work with people who can see the bigger picture and spot opportunities.”

We are excited to welcome Karen as a MAFista.

While her experience stands on its own, Karen’s passion for showing up, in the truest sense, embodies the MAF spirit. She has lived it herself, after all.

The last performance she and her husband shared was Fiddler On The Roof. Eric led the orchestra and was also on stage as the fiddler. The theater on opening night was packed. 

“This was the first time I experienced community. It’s hard to talk about death. But it’s easy to care by attending our show. So people showed up. I’ll never forget that.”

A Tale of Two Recoveries

A Tale of Two Recoveries: How Immigrant Families Survived COVID-19

Lately, we’ve been hearing in the news how most American households are doing much better financially today than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. From stimulus checks and unemployment insurance to the expanded Child Tax Credit, federal COVID-19 relief played a critical role in helping families survive, and even improve their financial footing.

But this picture misses another lesser-known story of recovery: the experience of immigrant families who were excluded from federal pandemic relief. 

On December 2, 2021, we came together to uplift the stories and experiences of immigrant families left behind. We reflected with partners and asked ourselves, how can we help immigrant families rebuild their financial lives? Watch the recording below.

11.5 million immigrants and their families were denied federal COVID-19 relief.

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 recipient

Immigrants have long been excluded from this country’s social safety net. Despite paying billions in federal taxes every year, undocumented immigrants remain ineligible for nearly all federal protections, from health insurance to food and housing subsidies.

During the pandemic, three in four undocumented immigrants filled frontline essential roles, risking their own lives to help keep us fed, safe, and healthy. Yet, even as they stepped up for the country, they remained excluded from federal relief. It’s estimated that an immigrant family of four was denied upward of $11,400. Without this critical support, immigrant families’ lives took a devastating hit. 

Essential, invisible, and excluded. 

Drawing on our unparalleled survey of more than 11,000 immigrants excluded from federal relief, we got an honest and painful look at how immigrant families survived.  

Without a social safety net to fall back on, many immigrants had no choice but to show up for work. The costs for workers on the frontlines was immense: not only did workers put their families’ health at risk, but those who did get sick faced a downward spiral of financial hardship.

Families where a member got sick with COVID-19 were not only more likely to lose income and fall behind on bills than households where no one got sick, but they were also more likely to face penalties, have their utilities shut off, and be evicted.

Many immigrant families walked into the crisis with limited access and few financial options. Families who were invisible to the formal financial system prior to COVID-19𑁋lacking a Social Security Number or Tax ID𑁋were less likely to have checking accounts or credit cards.

And with fewer financial strategies, these families had fewer options to draw on during COVID-19. Indeed, we saw that immigrants who had a Tax ID were 45% more likely to pay their monthly bills in full than immigrants without a Tax ID. 

So how did families survive in a system that treated them as essential and invisible? Many went without, as 6 in 10 families reported being unable to cover their basic needs. Despite these sacrifices, many families still had to take on debt. In the depth of the pandemic, families who had fallen behind reported having $2,000 in unpaid bills, representing zombie debt that families will carry with them even into the recovery.

Our calls to action.

So, where do we go from here?

We invited advocates and practitioners to talk about how we can show up, do more, and do better. Across the board, we heard that while steps are being taken to help people rebuild, more needs to happen for a truly equitable and inclusive recovery.

A Tale of Two Recoveries, webinar panelists

SHOW UP: Make policies inclusive of all immigrants. The federal government has set a damaging precedent of excluding immigrants from critical social safety net policies. However, there are choices we can make at the state and local levels to help offer relief with the resources we have available now. Policy is a choice, and it’s in our power to advocate for more inclusive protections and services for all immigrants across all levels of government.

DO MORE: Remove structural barriers. Without legal status, immigrants continue to be left out of critical resources that could help them rebuild. But accessibility runs even deeper: from language to technology barriers, we need to ensure programs and services are delivered in-language, in-culture, and in ways that help families use resources when they need them.

DO BETTER: Change mindsets together. From COVID-19 relief packages to the growing recognition that giving people cash works, we’re encouraged by the progress that has been made to better support people at the margins. But we need more allies in this fight so that we can build systems that create more equitable pathways of opportunity. When we harness our collective power, we can create lasting change.

We know the work is far from over.

Immigrants have been excluded from our nation’s support systems for too long, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated many of these existing inequities. This is why our work is more important than ever.

When we look ahead, we’re anchored by José’s reminder: “We have to rely on one another to keep ourselves whole and keep our spirits up. We can’t let the devastation of our reality overtake our spirits.” Together, with respect and mutuality, we can help immigrant families rebuild their financial lives with dignity.

Cristina's Story

Dreams Blooming In The Dark: Cristina’s Story

Cristina Velásquez inició un negocio durante la pandemia de COVID-19. Mientras se cerraban industrias enteras, ella y su esposo vieron la oportunidad de hacer realidad su sueño.

Cristina se entrevistó con la MAFista Diana Adame para hablar sobre esa decisión, de cómo los Lending Circles de MAF la prepararon para los negocios y el poder que tenemos dentro de nosotros para hacer realidad nuestros sueños.

Cristina Velásquez started a business during the COVID-19 pandemic. While entire industries were shutting down, she and her husband saw an opportunity to seize their dream.

Cristina sat down with MAFista Diana Adame to talk about that decision, how MAF’s Lending Circles prepared her for business—starting Blind-N-Vision—and more.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Diana Adame: My name is Diana Adame. I work here at MAF.

Cristina Velásquez: My name is Ana Cristina Velásquez. I go by my second name, Cristina. I’m from El Salvador. I’ve been running my own business together with my husband for four months. We manufacture drape curtains which people may know as Roman shades. I’m helping my husband more than anything with delivery. He makes the product and I deliver it.

Cristina's family business

Diana: Why did you decide to open a business during the pandemic?

Cristina: We started to discover what people were telling us — that when people worked outside, they weren’t at home much. They then started to realize that there were many necessary home improvements. Demand for curtains started to rise. And this was how we said to ourselves, wow, here is a real opportunity.

Diana: What is the most unexpected challenge you’ve had to solve in starting your business?

Cristina: Wow, I think the first challenge we had was accessing a space. Talking about San Francisco, there may be space but it’s extremely expensive. We needed a space that was quite large, which we didn’t have available in the apartment we lived in.

Diana: How did you find your space?

Cristina: I always say that God had a plan and will for everything. I have a friend whom I met 15 years ago. She works at a beauty salon. And, well, I knew that the back part of the store was being rented out. It’s now free, it’s still available to be rented. And the first thing I asked was, how tall is it? Very high, she said. I told her, perfect! And this was how my husband and I went to check it out and we fell in love with it, it was perfect for what we wanted to do.

Diana: After everything was finalized, after you’d spoken with your friend, what did it feel like to walk into your space for the first time after you found it?

Cristina: Very proud to say, wow, finally this is a reality. It was a dream but now it’s real and we can touch it. This is beautiful. Really, I feel happy and grateful to God.

Finding the Resources

Diana: How did you first hear about MAF?

Cristina: I believe it was back in 2015. That’s when the story began because that’s when I wanted to start building credit. It was the best decision that I’ve ever made. There, they took me out of the darkness. I used to not have good credit and now I have excellent credit.

Diana: How have MAF’s services impacted your business?

Cristina: What I’ve learned on the personal side, I’m applying to my business. To run a business, you need great credit. In the personal sphere, that has opened doors a little more easily to do certain things with my business.

Diana: These learnings are so valuable when you bring them into other areas of your life, right? Great practices. One question that I would like to ask is, what is the MAF platform that’s most comfortable for you? Which have you benefited from the most?

Cristina: I think the mobile application. I think there was one time, quite late at night that I completed all of the modules because I felt they were so fast and practical. And so, I really love the [MyMAF] app.

Seizing Your Dreams


Diana: My last question, Cristina, is: what advice do you have for others in a similar position with a dream?

Cristina: Dreams should not stay dreams. They can become real. Only we have the power to make them real, no one but ourselves because they are not only our dreams but also what we want for us, for our children, and for our family. And then we can say, sí se puede. I made the effort and now I am a testament that, yes, sí se puede. I was singing to my husband last night. [song] It’s a beautiful song that talks about knowing that dreams are yours and you can realize them, whenever you desire.

Diana: Thanks so much Cristina. Well, I think that you are the motivation we need today. I appreciate you sharing your words with us.

Cristina: Thanks.

If you have a dream you’d like to bring to life, we’re here to support you. Check out our business microloans and financial services to find the tools that will work best for you.

Si tienes un sueño que te gustaría hacer realidad, estamos aquí para ayudarte. Consulta nuestros micropréstamos comerciales y servicios financieros para encontrar las herramientas que mejor se adapten a tus necesidades.

Elle Creel

Champion Spotlight: Meet Elle Creel

Elle Creel has been searching for a place to set roots. At MAF, she’s found fertile ground.

“I learned early on that finance is personal,” she reflected. “It’s not just functional, it’s deeply emotional.”

Elle is bringing this personal view of finance into her new role on MAF’s Tech Advisory Council (TAC). As a TAC member, she supports the MAF team by sharing insights, reflections, and best practices from her work in the fintech space. 

Elle is a product manager at Chime where she builds offerings in service of people living paycheck to paycheck. Chime provides banking services that are helpful, easy, and free. These days Elle has her hands full managing an organization growing at break-neck speed.

“It’s been amazing to be a part of Chime’s growth and see us realizing our mission to enable financial peace of mind,” she shares. “I’ve been honored to work on products that make our members’ lives better.” 

Elle led the launch of Chime’s high yield savings account and in the early days of the pandemic built the strategy for supporting members navigating unemployment benefits. She brings her experience keeping teams aligned through rapid change to MAF, where her learnings about how to scale organizational dynamics after an unprecedented year are particularly relevant.

Elle views finance as a distinctly human experience and is motivated by the way it touches people in real ways. This understanding is what drew her to MAF as she found inspiration in our community-centered approach.

“I’m excited to join an organization with strong roots in the community that’s working on a similar mission as I am, but from a different vantage point.”

As the daughter of a tax accountant, Elle learned how to balance a checkbook and log daily expenses from an early age. She watched as her mother sat across their dining table from friends and family members who came seeking advice. The guests brought their own financial strategies to the table, and learned new strategies to build on. These conversations, Elle saw at a young age, made a real impact. People who came to her mother’s table walked out the door with stable confidence, ready to chart their own financial futures.

Feelings of fear, insecurity, and uncertainty could be transformed through a listening ear and information. A single conversation, Elle learned, could make a difference in people reclaiming the reins over their own lives. This is precisely what Elle hopes to pass forward.

Elle’s passion blossomed through an internship at an early stage impact investor. She worked with a Kenyan startup offering small business owners access to loans. Most of the customers were individuals providing for their families. They had grit, dedication, and motivation in spades, yet structural barriers including lack of access to capital stunted their ability to grow.

“Just having access to financial services could be transformative,” she learned. “The role of capital in unlocking human potential became very real and tangible to me.”

This was a lightbulb moment for Elle.

Her professional skills and natural curiosity could be put to use for the good of others by working to improve “the essential nature of finance” in people’s lives. She’d found a path that allowed her to show up as her full self, going beyond the professional toolkit and drawing on the personal experiences that had shaped her upbringing.

“People need to feel peace of mind, that they have control over their financial lives. MAF is at the cutting edge of that.”

We’re excited to welcome Elle to the MAF team and offer her a seat at the table.

Laura Arce

Champion Spotlight: Meet Laura Arce

For Laura Arce, joining MAF feels like a homecoming. 

Her new role as a member of MAF’s board of directors brought her—in a symbolic sense—back to the Bay Area, where she was born and raised. For years after college, Laura had spent time elsewhere: on Capitol Hill, in Beijing, working for government agencies or small consulting or even big banks like Wells Fargo, where she currently serves as a senior vice president of consumer banking and lending policy. 

But in 2020, when COVID-19 upended everyone’s lives, Laura had a startling epiphany.

“I realized I was missing my roots,” she says. It wasn’t just because Laura couldn’t simply board a plane ride back to her hometown anymore. It was also because her professional career was borne out of the personal—and it was time for Laura to reconnect with her own origin story.

Laura grew up in a Mexican immigrant family in Oakland.

Her parents were nonprofit workers, and she spent a lot of her elementary school years hanging out around the Spanish Speaking Unity Council, a community resource center where her father worked. 

Laura cites her father as one of her biggest influences. That’s partly because of the early affinity for community work he instilled in her, and partly because of the fact that, as a child, she often witnessed the ways her own family was excluded from the financial mainstream. Her own grandfather didn’t trust banks. Every time he paid for a bill—phone, water, anything—he would take the bus downtown to its respective office and pay in cash. 

“That cost him a lot of time and extra effort. But he did it all of his adult life,” Laura says. It was risky to carry so much cash at once, but her grandfather would rather place his faith in dollar bills than a banking institution. Stamped receipts were carefully saved, and a passbook savings account was rarely touched. 

This process seemed “normal” to Laura until she started college at U.C. Berkeley. While Laura’s grandfather was saving stamped paper receipts and letting his bank account gather dust, Laura’s classmates were using credit cards to “magically” pay for their books and supplies. While her roommate’s parents mailed checks to their landlord, Laura was responsible for her own bank account. She was stunned at the incongruities between her experiences and her classmates’. 

All these differences were like lightbulb moments for Laura. “Who’s unbanked, who’s banked, who has credit, who doesn’t. There are clear disparities across race, ethnicity, income levels, even geographies,” Laura says. And her family lived at those intersections.

“Even in my case, where I had parents who were educated, and grandparents who had kids who could help them—they were underbanked,” Laura says. “They were outside of the financial mainstream.” 

Laura’s position on MAF’s finance and audit committees is a way of honoring her roots. 

“I decided I wanted to take everything I learned and built,” Laura says. “And I wanted to be engaged again in more community-based work.” Her role is the kind that marries a certain philosophy Laura has about closing the banking gap for people of color systematically excluded from financial services—like her grandfather.

“It’s not going to be one easy button that we all can press,” Laura says. “It’s going to take the private sector stepping up, and it’s also going to take public policy that supports those goals, as well as the effort of groups like MAF, who are willing to be out there and take more chances.”

And while Laura intends to bring her public policy and private sector backgrounds into board conversations, she’s also hoping to learn from her peers. “I’m excited to be in these meetings and hear all these conversations about how we address really challenging problems,” Laura says. MAF’s work as both a “national leader” and a community-based organization is the kind of perspective she wants to bring to her work outside of MAF, whether it be in government agencies or big banks.

That’s partly because Laura feels a responsibility. Throughout her career in the private and public sectors, Laura has often been one of the few Latina women in the room. “Part of my expertise is also my personal experience,” she says. Not everyone Laura has worked with has grown up in an immigrant community. Not everyone has had family members who didn’t speak English, or who didn’t trust banks. Not everyone will ask, “What are the parts of the communities that are left behind and not being served? And what can I do?”

But Laura will. “I represent that voice,” Laura says. “It’s really important to me, and I take that very seriously.”



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