Skip to main content

How MAF’s Ladder of Engagement Meets People Where They Are

At MAF, clients are the experts in their financial lives, so we design our financial services to highlight their experiences while learning new skills. Our financial education centers around building participants’ sense of self-advocacy to make informed decisions about their finances and providing the resources and support they need to achieve their financial goals. 

We do this through our ladder of engagement, which involves a progression of activities designed to build self-advocacy and financial literacy:

The ladder of engagement begins with the “what,” where clients engage with MAF’s Charla Financieras or “financial chats.” 

These sessions are designed to introduce clients to a financial interest of their choice with various topics, including budgeting, saving, credit, and debt management. The Charlas aim to provide participants with an understanding of “what” a topic is and an opportunity to ask their own questions to fulfill their existing knowledge. Our most famous example would be the topic of credit, where a Charla would consist of learning about credit reports, credit scores, how credit reporting works, and a reminder that immigrants can build credit without an SSN. 

Once participants have been introduced to “what” credit is, we incite them to ask about the “how” in a Taller.

Once clients have a basic understanding of financial topics, they move on to the “how.” This is where MAF’s Talleres or “workshops” come in. These workshops provide a hands-on learning experience that allows clients to implement their newfound knowledge. The Taller align with the same topics as the Charlas, but they focus on practices connected to those topics. Our credit Talleres focus on two very important skills: reading and understanding a credit report and disputing errors on a credit report. Participating in these workshops gives participants practical skills they can apply, which can be translated into other facets of their lives.

Finally, the ladder of engagement culminates in the “why” in our Community Conversations. 

This is where clients take the lead. In Community Conversations, clients converse and share “why” the topic is essential. These are opportunities to connect with others interested in similar financial topics and exchange experiences, questions, and inspiration. By sharing their stories and experiences, clients realize their financial experiences are valuable and can help others navigate similar challenges. This creates a sense of community and belonging, which is essential for building self-advocacy and financial confidence.

At MAF, the ladder of engagement is an effective way to build self-advocacy and financial literacy. 

By providing a range of activities that cater to different learning styles and preferences, we can meet clients where they are and support them as they progress along their financial journey. This approach is essential for communities that have been historically excluded from traditional financial services, such as low-income and immigrant communities.

Moreover, MAF’s ladder of engagement is more than just a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it is a flexible and adaptable framework that can be customized to meet each client’s unique needs and circumstances. 

This means that clients can engage with MAF at their own pace and in a way that works best for them. Through our ladder of engagement, we are working to create a more equitable and just financial system, one client at a time.

Learn more about MAF’s suite of financial services, including Charlas Financieras, the MyMAF app, and one-on-one financial coaching here.

Cafecito con MAF: What’s Next? Beyond Cash


What’s Next? Beyond Cash?

JULY 2022


  • Details


    After more than two years of the pandemic, it’s up to all of us to show up, do more, and do better for communities who have been left behind. As we reflect on the Rapid Response Fund, what’s next?

    In the final episode of our first season, MAF CEO José Quiñonez sits down with Efrain Segundo, MAF Financial Education and Engagement Manager. They chat about the Immigrant Families Recovery Program, MAF’s UBI+ program for immigrant families excluded from federal COVID-19 relief. Together, they outline a better way forward beyond cash, one that recognizes people’s human dignity and allows them to advocate for themselves in their next fight — whatever it may be.

  • 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!

    EFRAIN: Hi everyone, and welcome to our season finale! My name is Efrain Segundo, and I’m the financial education and engagement manager at MAF and your podcast host for today’s very special episode. Over the course of our first season, we’ve been reflecting on the past, talking a lot about how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted students, families, and immigrants who were excluded from stimulus checks. 

    DIANA: I had an awakening throughout that time, and instead of looking outwards, I started looking inwards. So I started a personal growth journey on my own. I feel like pre-pandemic, many of us were just telling ourselves we’re just busy, like we’re so busy working — we’re so busy. 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.

    EFRAIN: But today, we’d like to look to the future, and think about the incredible, inherent resilience people have demonstrated through these difficult times. Returning to our final episode to talk about just that is José Quiñonez, MAF CEO & founder. 

    EFRAIN: Good morning, José! How are you doing?

    JOSÉ: Good morning! Doing well.

    The vision for UBI+ for immigrant families

    EFRAIN: Awesome. I’m really psyched to be here today to have this conversation with you about all the work we’ve done at MAF. And I wanted to start with this kickoff question, so: Over the course of this podcast, we’ve talked a lot about the last two years — the experiences of the people we’ve served during COVID-19, how we launched the Rapid Response Fund and provided emergency cash assistance, and how MAF and our partners showed up for people. As our Rapid Response Fund winds down, we’ve launched a new program — the Immigrant Families Recovery Program. This is the first guaranteed income designed specifically to help immigrant families excluded from federal COVID-19 relief as they rebuild their financial lives. We’re sending $400 per month to low-income immigrant families paired with relevant financial services.

    So to kick off this conversation, the question for you José would be, as we make this big shift, what’s top of mind for you? And what is the vision for the program?

    JOSÉ: I’ve been thinking a lot about that in terms of how we need to show up again for people past the pandemic, because I think we definitely need to sort of figure out: What are going to be not just the next emergencies, but how to help people recuperate? 

    I mean, after seeing how they were devastated financially — losing all of their savings, racking up a lot of debt just to survive. So questions like: How do we help people recover from that devastation? And really do it in a way to help them set up for future success? So I’m really excited by that because I think it’s going to give us more to do. It’s going to challenge us to be more creative, be more thoughtful, and really be more engaged with people to figure out: how else could we show up? While we continue to do our Lending Circles, to improve our business loans, and even this new guaranteed income program. 

    So what else can we do? And I think that’s going to come from being in deep conversation with clients and trying to understand how they’re going to recover.

    From building credit to building a better world

    EFRAIN: Have there been any big resounding lessons that you’ve learned from the Rapid Response Fund? Whether it’s something that we learned, or something that we’d like others to know about?

    JOSÉ: One of the things I did take away from it was: it was great that we were able to show up and provide this one-time relief, right? And now of course, we’re working with over 3,000 families to provide them a guaranteed income for up to two years. But even that — it’s like, well, it’s two years, right?

    But the reality is that they have to live with themselves forever. They have to be the ones as clients, as people to really advocate for themselves. Not just in the financial marketplace, but in society in general. We’re seeing the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment — this backlash against progress for people of color. We need to make sure we also think about self-advocacy past their engagement with us — with MAF specifically. I think about that because it puts our programs at scale. It puts it in perspective. It’s great we were able to show up for this one-time grant, it’s great that we were able to provide them with this credit-building opportunity. 

    But what did we do in that time to help change their mindsets a little bit? To help them feel a little more confident in themselves? What do we do to help them feel like they can have that agency to be able to call their member of Congress and demand that they vote on X? Or call their school board president to make sure that they pass particular policies — or whatever, right? How are we helping them have a sense that they too can do that as well as building their credit?

    I’m grappling with that because money and finance is important, but I want it to be something as a way for us to help shape and educate and train people to advocate for themselves — beyond just building their financial security. And I think if we’re able to do that well, in the next coming months and years, I think we’ll be able to highlight a completely new approach of engaging poor people in this country in a way that could be really significant. 

    And I really want to ask you: What have you learned? How has your thinking about coaching changed in the past year, when we’re trying to do these self-advocacy trainings through financial empowerment? 

    The business of feeling

    EFRAIN: Staying true to MAF’s values and keeping the client first. My mom used to always say: La misma llave no abre todas las puertas. The same key doesn’t open up all the doors. Every key has its own individual door that it opens. I think that’s the best way that I like to think about carrying out the work, or contributing to the work that the program team does, the engagement team does. 

    Because we’re trying to figure out: What is the key for everybody? We do that through trials and tribulations, trying to figure out: What is the best, most accessible way for people to participate with this? What is the best thing that we can give them or help them find in that moment that will have the biggest ripples? And that’s one of my favorite ways of thinking about it. What stone can MAF throw in that pond that will have the best, everlasting ripples? The best effects over it. Because you’re right. It could just be a one-time grant. That might be able to pay a bill or two this month. But then what? And we want to address the “and then what.” We’re trying to figure that out.

    I remember when I was coaching during the pandemic. It was a bit tough because you definitely heard about people’s tough times, but it kind of hurts because you want to do everything you can to help that person — but there are limitations to it. 

    By encouraging self-advocacy — by teaching people skills, teaching people a sense of feeling. Because I think beyond the grants, beyond the programs, beyond everything that MAF offers, I think we’re in the business of feeling. We’re in the business of helping people have realizations that the power has been with them the entire time. They just needed someone to show them that, “Hey, this is how you do it. That you can do this for yourself.” We’ll be right there with you if you have questions, so you feel comfortable and continue doing so. These skills will translate over time and over different fields. 

    JOSÉ: The idea that we’re in the business of feelings — I think that’s right on target. It’s not the facts and figures that we convey that are important to our clients. It’s about how we make them feel afterwards. When we treat people with dignity, with respect, with honor — that’s the feeling that they take to their next battle. To their next problem. To their next engagement. 

    And of course, along the way, we give them tricks on how to do that — how to engage. But it is about building that confidence that comes from that — feeling like they are worthy, that they’re humans full of dignity, that they are people just as deserving as all of us to be seen and heard in this world. 

    You and your team, what you do, is so integral to making that happen. Because you’re like the clutch, right? You’re the ones interfacing with people on a daily basis. You’re the one interfacing with people on a daily basis. And as you know, it’s actually harder to just listen and hear all of the pain that people are having to go through. It takes a special human being to do that, frankly. That’s why I respect you and the work that you and your team does because it’s a lot to take on.

    15 years of éxito

    EFRAIN: Yeah, absolutely. Big shoutout to the team because I think you’re absolutely right. It puts us in a position where we get to genuinely connect with people. And that’s definitely a blessing. Because while it might be difficult at times to hear about the difficult times that people are experiencing, it’s extremely rewarding, José, when we’re in a session with a client and you see the “wow” on their face when they find out a piece of information that they didn’t know befor or a skill. And they either realize that, one, it’s easier than they thought, or two, it applies directly to their life, and three, it’s like they know they can genuinely do it.

    Let’s say somebody is completely brand new to MAF, somebody is brand new to this nonprofit world that we’re all a part of… how would you describe MAF’s strengths-based approach to someone completely new to our work? Or completely new to the world of asset-building, of clients-centered approach? How would you describe it to them? And how would describe this evolution from MAF’s first year to now? 

    JOSÉ: It sounds like a big question, but to be honest with you: It’s one of the most simplistic questions I’ve ever heard. And what I mean by that is this: It’s a question I’ve always had the same answer to for the past 15 years. It’s the same question, same answer. What is it that we’re trying to do? 

    And ultimately it’s about making sure people have an opportunity for real success. That we wanted for our clients to experience success.  To have éxito in their lives. That meant they had to be at the center of our thinking, the center of our design, the center of everything. The question then was: Well, what do you do after that? You have to then apply our values of engagement. That’s what we’ve done since day one, which is about the idea of meeting people where they are.

    You look at people as whole people. Not as some notion or some stereotype of them or some idolized version of them. No. You have to see people, see communities, and the whole sense of who they are. Both good and bad. You have to acknowledge the pain — acknowledge the barriers, the pitfalls that people fall into in life. But you also have to acknowledge the good things that people are doing. You have to acknowledge and recognize when they did not fall into that pit, when they were able to overcome the barriers. You have to acknowledge the good strategies that they have in order to survive in life. 

    EFRAIN: Absolutely. Man, that is spot-on. I think if people could apply this approach to any sort of profession, it would stick. And it would bring success. Because at the end of the day, it’s putting the person who you want your product to service, your thoughts to focus on — it’s on them. Because they are the masters of their own lives. They know it best. At the end of the day, it’s not up to us to go and say, “This is what your life should be.” It’s instead to ask, “What would you like your life to be, and how can we support you in getting there?” And I think that’s one of the biggest insights that I’ve learned throughout my experience in these Charlas, in all these fin-ed events and coaching.

    One, José, is that people are incredibly resilient, incredibly resilient. Whether we are there or not, a lot of people are going to do their absolute best to strive, and to survive, and to thrive in their life. But it’s amazing the impact support from organizations like MAF, like many of our partners, like many community-based organizations, can have in that feeling that can push people to go even more. 

    I try to keep my mom top of mind because I see my mom in a lot of my community members and the people that we serve, because I grew up with it. So it makes me really happy to see the impact of the products and the services. But more than anything, José, I think, we bring authenticity to the game. And I think if you are authentic in no matter what your field or your profession is, you will see success and you will see impact. 

    Because authenticity itself speaks for itself. You see authenticity in our services and products, whether it be our coaching or Charlas or Talleres or Conversaciones Comunitarias or MyMAF. People go into our products and services, and they definitely feel authentic energy, which makes it gravitate even more to us. 

    So I’m really happy that this has been our approach for the last 15 years. I’m happy that it’s evolved and gotten better as we’ve gone through it. And I’m really excited to see what this energy will bring into the future.

    When you look into the future, 15 years from now, when you look into the next 15, what are you feeling?

    Resilience is part of the human condition

    JOSÉ: When I was in college I remember reading/studying this book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. One of the things that I remember him mentioning in the book — and this kind of explains the idea that being resilient is part of our human condition. It’s not something that we are just because we’re just working and struggling. No, it’s that human beings by definition are resilient. That’s how we’ve survived through millennia. 

    Our whole educational system is set up in a way that presumes that our minds are like empty bank accounts. Them being empty bank accounts, it presumes that the teacher is the one that is depositing knowledge into our empty bank accounts. 

    Our whole educational system as a whole is built on that idea. And of course he’s very critical of it. He’s like, no, that’s not correct. No human mind is an empty bank account; no human mind is empty at all. Because we all have experiences, we all have dreams, aspirations. There’s a lot of wisdom in those truths. Just with that simple analogy, he was able to communicate this idea of the inherent value of our human existence as people. That’s, in a sense, what we’re trying to do with our work, sort of following with that tradition, or that idea that Paulo Freire set forth in that book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

    But I think that the next 15 years, frankly, is well, how else can we show and demonstrate more of that? And how can we take our learnings, what we’re demonstrating to be working, and how can we show that it can be applicable in other cases? How can this lead us to developing a policy agenda? It’s about persuading others outside of MAF of the value of this mindset. The value that this is a good approach, a better approach, because it’s more natural to people.

    And so I think it’s lifelong work that’s going to happen over many, many years.

    EFRAIN: Awesome, thank you so much for sharing that, José. At the end of the day, it’s about providing more people with a sense of access to — to findings, to one another, to that energy — but most importantly, a sense of community. Right? And I think that people when they connect with MAF, it’s an automatic sense of community because it’s as authentic as it gets. 

    If you could provide a call-to-action, for the people who are listening to today’s podcast — I know that our partners are listening, I know that community members are listening, or someone who’s just interested in the work we do… Is there one call-to-action that you would like to leave them all with for the first season of this podcast?

    JOSÉ: I encourage people to show up. To show up, to show up, to show up. And do more in their communities. Whatever it is that they’re doing. Whether they’re working at a nonprofit or at a foundation or in government, whatever it is that you’re doing, do more of it for poor people because they need more. And also, we need to do things better, right? So whatever it is that we’re doing: learn from it, improve it, be more efficient. Be better, do better.

    EFRAIN: Definitely show up, do what you can, do better. And I think it’ll be easy to find that the world will be a better place as a result of it. Thank you so much, José. I really appreciated today’s conversation.

    JOSÉ: Yeah, thank you! 

    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.

Continue reading

Cafecito con MAF: Same Storm, Different Boats


Same Storm, Different Boats

JULY 2022


  • Details


    At every step of the way, trusted partners showed up alongside MAF to support students, workers, and immigrant families left out of federal relief during the pandemic. Their partnership allowed us to reach more people with critical cash assistance, making people feel seen and heard. 

    In this episode, Alex Altman sits down with one of those partners, April Yee, Senior Program Officer at College Futures Foundation. A leader in the higher education space, College Futures Foundation partnered with MAF and others to launch the California College Student Emergency Support Fund. Alex and April share insights into how the pandemic impacted college students and discuss learnings from our collaboration to provide $500 cash grants to low-income California college students.

  • 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!

    ALEX: Hi everyone! My name is Alex Altman and I’m the philanthropy director at MAF, and your podcast host for today’s episode. Earlier in this season, we’ve shared with you stories that may run counter to what you’re hearing in the mainstream news. Rather than talking about how well the country is doing as households pay down debt and build up savings, we’re telling another story, the story of those left out of crisis relief.

    DIANA: I have nephews and young adults who were missing that support system. Because as an adult, you know how to “adult”. But when you’re transitioning from teenager to young adult, they need that support out there. And I feel like if there was an organization like you guys, focusing on kids who come out of high school, that’s when you’re kind of lost.

    Partnering together in the early days of the pandemic

    ALEX: Many college students, particularly first-generation low-income immigrants, go to college as a way to break the cycle of poverty, not only for themselves but for their families as well. But as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, that path isn’t always so easy, especially when you’re being systematically excluded from crucial resources. 

    Joining me today to talk more about the experience of higher ed students during COVID-19 is April Yee, from the College Futures Foundation. Hi, April, welcome!

    APRIL: Thanks. Hi, Alex! Good to see you.

    ALEX: So just to start out, maybe to level set, MAF and College Futures have been working together for about two years now, since the pandemic started. Can you provide some context for that partnership?

    APRIL: Sure. You know when COVID began, which I guess feels like a different era now, it felt like this short-term crisis that was popping up. Our CEO of the College Futures Foundation, Monica Lozano, in coordination with the board, was really interested in what we can do immediately. How can we help?

    And having had some conversations with folks at the state level, the decision that was come to was that philanthropy could provide some short-term support to students. It was going to take a while for the state to get its ducks in a row, the federal government — all of that — but we could provide some of that short-term, immediate aid to students.

    And so she reached out to José, your founder and CEO, given their previous partnership around undocumented students and asked if there was an opportunity for partnership given MAF’s expertise in providing support to folks out in the community. And that’s where we started working together.

    ALEX: I remember when we first heard from Monica. I mean it was in March, right? We had just gone into lockdown and you sort of didn’t really have a sense of what was to come. We just knew things were going to transition, we sort of had to — for college students, for workers, for everyone — life was going to change, life was changing overnight. 

    And so, how do we — like you said — while we wait for the government, while we see what plays out, how can we move quickly to address some of the gaps that come up?

    APRIL: Folks just signed up pretty quickly. I think it’s a testament to College Futures’ role in the field and our long-standing commitment to students in California. But a lot of our funder partners too were like — great, that’s something that we don’t have to coordinate and figure out! They were worried about it, they were concerned too. 

    And it was really great to be able to pool these resources, streamline what is typically not an easy process in philanthropy. We’re not going to require different sorts of processes and so that was inspiring to see how we could all just be nimble, act quick, and get it done. 

    The tremendous need

    ALEX: So let me take us back. So we have ultimately across this partnership, a little over $3 million to provide grants. And we would provide $500 cash assistance — no strings attached, so students can use it however they need because part of it is we know that students will have different challenges. 

    And then we launched the fund. And in part because College Futures did such an incredible job of networking across the systems, we had 66,000 students apply in the first 24 hours. Where do you go from there?

    APRIL: I mean that still makes my heart hurt right now to hear. It’s stunning — and it just tells you the depth of need. And now with some distance between that moment and here, we talk about…why is it that…how do we reach students? We have all these resources for students, the state’s providing —. And why aren’t they taking it? 

    There’s something about the no-strings attached, the beautiful interface, and the way that you ask the questions. And just honestly, I think a huge component was the way this information was going out through trusted relationships, whether it was from nonprofit organizations or the segments, but to have that kind of response in the first 24 hours is in some ways successful, but in other ways, it was heartbreaking. 

    How COVID-19 shifted students’ realities

    ALEX: Yeah, I absolutely feel that. Maybe we could spend a few minutes just talking about how the pandemic has impacted students and how it has shifted their realities. Can you share a little about what you’ve heard from students or what you’ve learned about how they’re weathering the pandemic? 

    APRIL: There’s no way to underestimate or overestimate how much this has changed their lives. Some may or may not have laptop computers and strong WiFi. We heard a lot of stories about how students were trying to continue in their courses on their phones, their smartphones — that’s their primary way. Or going to campus or public libraries or the parking lots to try to tap into WiFi to finish homework. It’s affected — that was sort of the first semester and I think over time, we’ve seen declining enrollments and folks deciding whether to take a semester or a year off. Or just to not apply in the first place if they’re coming from high school. That’s happened. When they are able to log in, the notion of connecting with faculty and classmates online has completely changed the learning experience. The whole idea of having your camera on and what that means. And being able to have side conversations or date or flirt or make friends. 

    ALEX: The pillars of college experience!

    APRIL: Yeah! Do you want to go grab coffee? Or I missed that note! Or I wasn’t in class yesterday. You lose a lot of that in the virtual space. And so we’ve heard from students that it’s just been really hard, in every possible way — really, really hard.

    ALEX: You know we had talked to Taryn. She said after classes closed, she had been taking her twins to daycare on campus. They were getting meals on campus. And so with classes shifting remotely, not only is she now trying to figure out remote classes, but what do you do with childcare? How do you now become a full-time parent on top of taking classes? 

    So there’s so much of that nuance and dimensionality. And I think that’s what the crisis really brought up — is that not everybody experienced the last two years in the same way.

    APRIL: That’s right. I’ve heard folks say, “We’re all weathering the same storm but we’re in very different boats.” When we think about who researchers can contact or who colleges bring in for focus groups. The students who have the time for that or who have the relationships to be invited are often not the students who are of greatest need because those students are hustling to pick up their kids from child care or to their next job. 

    One of the biggest headlines is that students are embedded in families — whether they’re heads of families or adults helping their parents — they’re embedded in families. This notion of individual students — institutions often think of FTE — that’s full-time enrollment when they’re counting their numbers — that’s not who we’re talking about. We’re not talking about FTEs, we’re not even talking about students, I think we’re talking about humans and families — people. The data that you collected through the surveys and just this whole experience, I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways: how interconnected students are with their families. 

    A financial equity framework

    ALEX: Yeah, absolutely, and that was such a big focus during these relief efforts: the students we reached and the survey that we collected responses for isn’t a representative survey of all students across the state. Right? Like you said, by using this financial equity framework, we focused on students who faced systemic barriers, who are DACAmented, who are foster youth, who don’t necessarily have the same support system that other students do, who had lost income, employment, and who were facing strains — either they themselves had gotten sick with COVID or they were supporting family members, like we just talked about with Taryn.

    You know one of the things that stood out pretty sharply is that students who had dependents navigating this transition were more likely to report that they had trouble accessing the space or the technology that they needed. They had more trouble covering basic needs and were twice as likely to be late on their rent. They were three times more likely to use a payday loan to cover needs. Because their needs looked very different from — you know — this traditional student profile that we talk about. 

    Learnings from this partnership

    APRIL: Another reason why I’m just so grateful and proud of this partnership is that your expertise and insights in understanding folks’ financial lives is a huge addition to the higher ed frame around finances. 

    Our lens typically, in this sector has to do with: ‘are you low-income?’ — I’m doing air quotes right now — as defined by eligible for Pell grants. That is the measure. 

    But thinking about income, thinking about assets, thinking about dependents, thinking about lost hours if you’re an hourly worker. You just provided so much more nuance to my understanding of what we mean when we think about equity as it relates to poverty and financial stability, financial confidence — that was a topic we talked about a lot over the course of the last few years. 

    I’m really grateful for the learnings. I think there’s a lot to continue to explore. But it’s not how higher education institutions typically think about student needs, or thinking about them as parents or adult children who are supporting other members of their families.

    ALEX: I want to bring us back to reflecting. So as these shifts are happening, as College Futures and MAF collaborated on this work over the last couple of years, what did we learn? Particularly when we think about giving people cash, giving students cash to cover whatever they need, and recognizing — again trusting students — that they know what they need best and recognizing that it’s going to be complex and it’s going to differ based on each student’s situation. What did you take away from the emergency cash assistance fund that we collaborated on?

    APRIL: You know I’ve been thinking about this — because that’s my job. I think we’re already in this space where we’re trying to break out of higher ed being this island — as part of this elite space in our social— in our society, that’s on its own. And especially with public higher ed — that’s what I’m focused on — how do we think about higher education as being part of a fabric of a society? As part of a connection to other state agencies or public agencies that are here to support a state, the people of a state. That’s sort of the backdrop of what I was thinking about in terms of higher ed being connected to K-12, but not just K-12, to CalFresh, and to the other kinds of public entities in the state. 

    That made me start thinking about our partnership, and how much there is to learn outside of higher ed. Our partnership is a perfect example of the notion of financial aid and thinking about poverty and wealth as being defined just as Pell/Pell-eligible. And your insights and expertise provided this much more expansive, much more nuanced understanding of students’ financial lives. 

    And those are the kind of partnerships that I think we really need to continue to build for the higher education system to work better for students. We can’t just have institutions in their bubble, trying to work with students, but actually working with community-based partnerships to understand how to meet the needs of a community in ways that not necessarily institutions can do by themselves. 

    The sacrifices and the strategies that they made were another takeaway. The framing around both was important for me. Often, we talk about the population that this fund served and was deemed those most in need. And yet they’re so resourceful, they’re so resilient, they’re figuring it out.

    Small amounts make a big difference

    APRIL: There’s something about the money. Five hundred dollars is not — it’s important — but it’s not going to change the life course trajectory of students. Unless you never know, maybe a car broke down and it changed whether they were able to keep working or not, things like that. Sometimes small amounts really can have a big difference. 

    My point is that we heard from the surveys that often it was more, almost symbolic. It affirmed the recipients’ belief in their ability to move forward. And so I think one of the big takeaways from our partnership — and I will credit you and José forever — is around the notion of confidence, stability, and why that matters. It feels sort of ephemeral in terms of, “Do you feel confident about the future?” But it does, it does matter. The research showed it. And it aligns with other research out there and my experiences in the field as well. 

    That investment in students’ confidence in themselves and their confidence in the future — our CEO at College Futures says we’re in the business of hope in philanthropy — it really is that. Emergency aid, these small dollars can help change people’s lives in those kinds of ways, can help push them forward when things feel really hard. And make them feel like they’re not all alone.

    ALEX: Well, wonderful. Thank you so much, April. We really appreciate you joining us and talking with us today.

    APRIL: It’s my pleasure and I’m so grateful for this partnership.

    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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading