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Cash to Credit: What happens after guaranteed income?

We are excited to share the latest updates from our webinar series featuring insights from the largest guaranteed income program for low-income immigrant families. Our recent webinar, “From Cash to Credit,” focused on the Immigrant Families Recovery Program (IFRP) and the valuable insights we’ve gained from our research.

Diverse Journeys and Financial Resilience

As our Evaluation Manager, Christopher Dokko, shared during the webinar, “Participants are at a really different place in their financial journeys, and that difference is reflected in their data.” We’ve always recognized that immigrant families are not a monolith, each with unique stories and circumstances. Our data has confirmed this, highlighting the diverse needs and challenges within immigrant communities.

While we’ve seen participants in our credit-building programs make remarkable strides, many IFRP participants face additional barriers, like having lower incomes and limited access to traditional banking. However, we’re celebrating the steady progress these families are making toward financial security, as Chris noted, these are clients who “typically have an average household income of about $2,100 per month for a family of 4,” and their incremental gains are a testament to their resilience in the face of immense economic pressure.

The IFRP Loan: A Program rooted in listening and innovation

Our research also revealed areas where we could do better. As Helena Sanchez Silva Garijo, our Program Director put it, “It was really the program that was not resonating with these clients.” Our initial efforts to transition IFRP participants to our Lending Circles program had limited success. But by listening closely to client feedback, we realized a new approach was needed.

The result is the Immigrant Families Credit Building Program, a hybrid model that combines a small loan with a grant. This innovation addresses the unique challenges IFRP participants face, offering a smoother pathway to financial inclusion. We’re thrilled to see a significant increase in engagement, with 40% of invited clients now having started the application process.

Empowering Through Deep Listening and Understanding

At MAF, we believe that “the secret to truly meeting the needs of our community members lies not in simply talking, but in the art of quiet understanding,” as Mariel Hernández, our Communication and Engagement Manager, so eloquently put it. We’ve made a deep commitment to listening to our clients, adapting our programs to their unique needs and circumstances, and supporting them to take control of their financial futures.

A Vision for the Future: Amplifying Immigrant Voices

The data we’ve gathered tells a powerful story of resilience and resourcefulness in the face of systemic barriers. Our CEO, José Quiñonez, expressed his excitement about the potential of this research: “We are coming to the point of being able to articulate this bigger, broader vision…with facts, with data, with analysis, with concrete reports.” We’re eager to share our findings with a wider audience to inform policy discussions and inspire others working towards financial inclusion.

At MAF, we remain steadfast in our mission to create a more equitable financial landscape for immigrant families. Through continued research, innovative programs, and a deep commitment to listening to our clients, we’re confident that we can create lasting change and support more families to thrive.

Preparing for the Next Challenge: Our Commitment to Immigrants is Steadfast

Friends and allies, 

The past few weeks have laid bare the hardening political reality against immigrants as Trump’s dangerous lies perpetuate anti-immigrant sentiment and action. We don’t have to look further than the Presidential debate to see how Trump has moved past the “Build the Wall” rhetoric to promising “Mass Deportations” of immigrants as the solution to our social and political challenges. The debate was concerning on many levels, but it was more so because such dangerous, frightful, and dehumanizing claims went unchallenged as if they were now common sense, the politically and socially acceptable norm. 

This darkening political climate underscores the urgency of our work. While the future may seem uncertain, I want to assure you that MAF remains steadfast in doing all that we can to provide resources, tools, and guidance to help low-income immigrant families. Time and time again, we show up with real, meaningful, and timely solutions to help them navigate and make it through times of crisis. This is the essence of our work; it’s how we meet people where they are and why we put the best of technology and finance to build solutions in the context of their lives.

Immigrants Drive our Economy: The Case for Increased Support

During the COVID-19 pandemic, MAF supported immigrants when no one else would. Our support helped families weather and recover from the pandemic faster, significantly contributing to our surprising economic recovery and expansion. Reports are just now showing the important contributions immigrants are making towards our nation’s prosperity and economic growth. 

Instead of ignoring the people underpinning the economic recovery, which many analysts are calling the “envy” of the post-pandemic world, we need to focus on helping immigrants more. Millions of families live in fear of deportation, and even those with legal status are frightened that their progress could end any day. We  celebrated 12 years of DACA this summer. The executive order that protected over 800,000 people from deportations, allowing them to continue their studies and establish careers and families in the US; however, the program is under threat in the courts. Ending the policy will upend their lives and significantly disrupt their families, communities, and the economic well-being of our country.

MAF is Building Solutions and Showing Up for Immigrant Communities

This is no way to live. The uncertainty is overwhelming, depressing our human and economic potential. At MAF, we are working closely with immigration legal experts to find better ways to provide clients with information, advice, and financial support that can move them forward on their path to legalization and secure legal status as best they can. We’re actively fostering a community of support for immigrants, providing culturally relevant solutions to improve their financial lives. 

We firmly believe that by building solutions in the context of their lives, on what is good and what matters in people’s lives, we can drive real and lasting change. This is how we demonstrate a better way forward and how we push back against the dangerous rhetoric that can rip our communities apart. 

While we acknowledge the emotional toll that these challenges can take on our staff and the communities we serve, we remain hopeful and committed to our mission. We are fortunate to be a part of a passionate community of allies, partners, activists, and supporters who work with dedication and empathy. We will continue to support one another, learn from our experiences, and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of immigration policy.

Join Us in Making a Difference

I invite you to join us on this journey. Your support is invaluable, whether you’re an advocate, a volunteer, or someone who believes in the power of community. Together, we can create a world where everyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to thrive.

In solidarity,

José Quiñonez

Welcoming the Education & Leadership Foundation to MAF’s Lending Circles Partner Network

At MAF, we are always on the lookout for partners who share our vision of a more equitable world for immigrant families. Today, we are thrilled to introduce our latest addition to the MAF partner network – the Education & Leadership Foundation (ELF).

Based in Fresno, California, ELF is dedicated to empowering underrepresented communities through a range of essential services, including immigration support, equitable education opportunities, and social justice initiatives. What makes this partnership particularly special is the personal connection that brought our organizations together. It all started when ELF’s Executive Director, Matías Bernal, first learned about MAF’s services in 2016 as a DACA recipient himself. Over the years, Matías has stayed connected with our organization and referred clients to MAF. Then, in the fall of 2022, Matías reached out to explore what a formal partnership and bringing Lending Circles in-house to ELF could look like.

ELF’s journey began 16 years ago, focusing on supporting undocumented students at Fresno State University through educational programs. Since then, they have expanded their reach and evolved into a Department of Justice (DOJ) accredited immigration services provider. ELF provides the community with education, civic engagement, and immigration services, as well as professional development seminars, leadership development, professional development internships, scholarships, and volunteer opportunities. ELF also initiates special projects like utility assistance and financial education workshops in response to community needs. Many of their clients are Spanish-speaking, English learners, or first-generation immigrants. Around 80% of the families they assist began their financial journeys with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and approximately one in five of their clients either lack a bank account or have a deep-seated distrust of traditional financial services.

MAF’s Lending Circles program fulfills a crucial need for ELF’s clients, offering access to credit and capital when traditional loans and banking services are often out of reach or denied to the communities they serve.

At MAF, we believe that Lending Circles are a powerful tool for diverse communities across the United States. Our partnership with ELF is a testament to this belief, and we are excited about the positive impact we can create together in the years to come. We look forward to witnessing how Lending Circles will play a transformative role in ELF’s community, providing access to credit and financial education that can pave the way for brighter financial futures for immigrant families.

If your organization is interested in becoming a Lending Circles partner, we encourage you to reach out or join us for one of our upcoming Lending Circles Communities events. Together, we can continue to expand financial opportunities and empower communities across the country.

 

Welcoming 4 New Partners to the Lending Circles Network

Across the country, MAF’s Lending Circles program partners with nonprofits to provide access to zero-interest social loans and financial education that helps low-income and immigrant communities build credit, save money, and achieve their financial goals. We’re thrilled to announce that we are welcoming four incredible nonprofit organizations to the Lending Circles network.

At MAF, we believe that everyone deserves access to affordable credit-building loans and financial education. We are excited to work with our new partners to bring Lending Circles to their local communities and help families build financial security nationwide.

Learn more about our newest partners below:

City Dibs
Baltimore, MD & Oakland, CA

Brioxy transforms communities by investing in the leadership of Black folks who are building possibility models towards Black sovereignty. As part of the City Dibs initiative, they train cohorts of Black leaders in cities across the country that are building innovative solutions in their neighborhoods. Lending Circles will be a complementary tool to support leaders in their fellowship program.


The Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAP OC)
Orange County, CA

CAP OC seeks to end and prevent poverty by stabilizing, sustaining and empowering people with the resources they need when they need them. They boldly address the root causes of poverty and advocate for change through systemic reforms, social justice and racial equity. CAP OC is integrating Lending Circles into their financial empowerment workshops and their Family Resource Centers.


East Oakland Collective
Oakland, CA

The East Oakland Collective supports residents of East Oakland, prioritizing Black residents, to navigate challenges and barriers to inequities through resource distribution and advocacy. EOC work towards racial and economic justice and equitable access, and their work includes homeless services and solutions, economic empowerment and community action. Lending Circles will pair with their financial literacy curriculum as core components of their economic empowerment programming.


International Institute of Metro Detroit
Detroit, MI

The International Institute is dedicated to transforming the lives of low-income immigrants, refugees, and U.S.-born residents through innovative solutions to advancing economic mobility. IIMD will integrate Lending Circles into their Center for Working Families, providing financial coaching, training, and workforce development.

If your organization is interested in bringing Lending Circles to your community, click here to learn more!

More than a check: MAF provides UBI+ for immigrant families, largest in nation

Have you seen the price of gas lately? My jaw almost dropped when I saw it climb past $6 and stay there.

Gas, food, housing — everything — is getting more expensive this year. Inflation is rising at its fastest rate in 40 years. Everyone is feeling the strain, but the people who are feeling the greatest pressure from inflation are the same people who always get left out, like the ones who were excluded from stimulus checks and the expanded Child Tax Credit. 

Undocumented families are routinely excluded from social safety net programs, despite the crisis of the moment or personal hardships they may be living through.

Millions of immigrant families are simply left to fend for themselves. Without income, people spiraled into debt during the pandemic, and now inflation is threatening their precarious economic recovery.

“We really need the help,” Rosa, a mother and MAF client, told us. “My husband had a heart attack about 4 months ago. He is still recovering and I am the only one who works part time. I have a 3 year old son and he needs things: clothes, shoes, food.” Families like Rosa’s need a little help to weather these storms, especially if they may be rebuilding from prior ones, barely recovering from one crisis before the next hits.

At MAF, we launched the nation’s largest UBI+ program for immigrants to help families recover faster.

We’re partnering with 3,000 immigrant families across the country as they rebuild their financial lives in the wake of the pandemic. Together, we’re learning what it will take to help people recover faster and prepare for what comes next. 

The Immigrant Families Recovery Program is providing $400 a month to immigrant families left out of federal COVID-19 relief for up to two years. This $30 million program is designed to deepen engagement with families we supported during the pandemic. To build back faster, we are providing participants with self-advocacy training to help them weather what may come next. And, we’re investing in research, engaging with a comparison group of 1,750 families to help us understand the true impact of cash aid and financial education. Follow along with us as we share research insights to pave the way for future change.

More than 1,600 families are enrolled and receiving their monthly payments. We are on track to complete enrollment by the end of summer. Families throughout the country in California, Texas, New York, and beyond have enrolled in the program, receiving monthly cash payments and relevant financial services. And we’re partnering with a coalition of San Mateo County groups, Daly City, and other localities to reach immigrant families in their communities.

Monthly cash payments can be transformational for families.

“We have put off a lot of necessities for a very long time in order to just take care of the basics. We try hard to not have our kids feel burdened or that they’re missing out, but it’s a struggle,” Sergio says. “I would love to be able to buy them music lessons, pay for a personal therapist for myself, invest in a college fund and start an emergency savings account too.” 

MAF’s UBI+ program for immigrant families is more than a check — it’s a recognition of their human dignity, a message that they matter and deserve security and opportunity to thrive in this world too.

IGNITE Partner Convening: We Shine Brighter Together

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

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

Welcome & Fireside Chat

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

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

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

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

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

Sparking Innovation: Lessons Learned from Lending Circles

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

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

Shining a Light: Undocumented Immigrants during COVID-19

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

The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket

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

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

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

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

If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, reach out to partners@missionassetfund.org for more information.

Fueling the Hustle: Entrepreneurism during COVID-19

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

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

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

Kindling Adaptability: Connection in a Virtual World

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

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

Music

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

Keeping the Spark Alive

How will you keep the spark aflame?

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


We’ll continue to learn from our partners and we can’t wait to celebrate them again during MAF’s Quinceañera — coming up this October 14th! Stay tuned for more opportunities to keep these sparks alive.

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

Honoring Immigrant Entrepreneurs during National Small Business Week

Everytime we run errands at a local grocer, eat lunch at a family-owned restaurant, or stock our personal libraries with indie bookstore orders, we are reinvesting in the communities we live in. Small businesses are the lifeblood of neighborhoods: Besides making our local landscapes special, small businesses keep money from the community, in the community

Of course, small businesses wouldn’t be possible without the creative people who started them, many of whom have endured impossible challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating seas of red tape to access crucial financial support has been a struggle — especially for immigrants and people of color, who were disproportionately hurt by the design of loans like the Paycheck Protection Program. 

In the face of these barriers, MAF has seen incredible resilience and savviness from immigrant and BIPOC entrepreneurs. This #SmallBusinessWeek, we’re taking a moment to share their lessons and honor their histories. Behind every small business is a dreamer, entrepreneur, and neighbor, each with their own story:

Tahmeena

“At that time, I didn’t have a credit card. I wasn’t familiar with businesses or anything,” Tahmeena says. She had no credit history when she immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan. But she wasn’t discouraged. Tahmeena, who had been interested in fashion since she was a child, quickly saw a need in her community for cultural clothings and accessories that were common abroad, but difficult to acquire in America. 

On a whim, she brought back a few items after a vacation to Turkey to see if there would be any interest. And within a month, she had almost too many customers clamoring for more. 

So Tahmeena joined MAF’s Lending Circles through the Refugee Women’s Network to establish a credit score and grow her online boutique, Takho’z Choice, further. She took the $1,000 she saved through the zero-interest loan and used it to buy merchandise. In just three months, her small business started to generate profit, and her previously nonexistent credit score jumped hundreds of points.

Reyna

Reyna’s mother planted the early seeds to their business when she sold tamales as a street vendor in San Francisco. With the support of incubator La Cocina, Reyna and her mother opened La Guerrera’s Kitchen’s first brick-and-mortar in 2019, right before the pandemic forced them to close shop. After two years of pop-ups and online Instagram orders, La Guerrera’s Kitchen was finally able to find a new home in Swan’s Market in Oakland in 2022. 

For many, mentorship is an essential part of this process to take off — especially for immigrant entrepreneurs. Through the process of starting La Guerrera’s Kitchen, Reyna learned about marketing and projections, how to negotiate, and how mixed-status homes can build credit with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or ITINS.

“I would have loved receiving this support at a younger age,” she says. It’s support like this that Reyna wants for all immigrants: “Let people know that, yes, you can be undocumented and still open a business. This is how you do it.” 

Diana

It took one look from her English bulldog for Diana to realize that she was destined for an entrepreneurial adventure. In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Diana was feeling stuck. It was difficult to find jobs relevant to her interior design college degree, and the gig she did get at a doggy daycare, she wasn’t satisfied with. “I knew I could do it better,” Diana says. “And my bulldog just looked at me, and I took off on my own.” 

That small look proved to be life-changing. “He opened up so many opportunities to me that I didn’t see before,” she says. Over a decade later, Diana is running her own successful doggy daycare business, a feat that she credits to her faith in her entrepreneurial dreams, and to the people (and pets) who helped her build that foundation of trust and support. That includes everyone — from her English bulldog to her clients to MAF. As a MAF client, Diana was able to save the money for a down payment on her first doggy daycare van. 

Trust and support are key for any small business owner, Diana says. Even beyond finding these things from your family or community, it’s important to have that faith in yourself.

“You are the boss of your life, not just your job. You’re not creating a job just for you, you’re creating jobs for other people, you’re helping your community, and you’re creating your life and your dreams,” Diana says. “You are the creator.”

Dreams Blooming In The Dark: Cristina’s Story

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

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

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

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

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Introductions

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

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

Cristina's family business

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

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

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

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

Diana: How did you find your space?

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

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

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

Finding the Resources

Diana: How did you first hear about MAF?

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

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

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

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

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

Seizing Your Dreams

Cristina

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

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

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

Cristina: Thanks.


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

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

Champion Spotlight: Meet Laura Arce

For Laura Arce, joining MAF feels like a homecoming. 

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

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

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

Laura grew up in a Mexican immigrant family in Oakland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Guaranteed Income for the Indispensable

I have been listening to a lot of music during the pandemic, trying to make sense of our world. A global pandemic, raging fires, voter suppression, a recall election, and refugee crises are but a few of what’s top of mind.

There’s one song called “Sueño con Serpientes”—by the Cuban musician and poet Silvio Rodríguez—that uses powerful metaphors that I think speak to what we are going through today.

Silvio wrote this song in 1975 from a nightmare where he battles translucent serpents with a hydra-like tendency. Every time he slays one snake, another larger one appears.

Sound familiar? I replay the song in the midst of yet another COVID-19 surge. Months ago, we were beating the virus until the Delta variant appeared. The light at the end of the tunnel was within sight! Now, we’re in the thick of the pandemic again. But all hope is not lost for, as the song goes, Silvio defeats the larger serpent when he proclaims un verso, una verdad.

I know. It’s soothing to think that proclaiming one’s truth alone can defeat the mightiest of serpents, or whatever monsters or pandemics we’re fighting against. Truth, it turns out, is necessary to strengthen our conviction but it takes a lot more to be a hero. Silvio hints at what that is by reciting this Bertolt Brecht poem at the beginning of the song:

“There are people who fight for a day, and they are good.
There are others who fight for a year, and they are better.
There are those who fight for many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who fight all their lives: these are the indispensable ones.”

Victory is not assured by winning one battle alone. It takes real work over time to be a real hero—making those that fight day in and day out, over years, and throughout their lifetimes, as the poem states, indispensable. 

In our world today, I think of essential workers as the indispensable ones, the real heroes.

Think about it. Even before the COVID-19 vaccines were widely available, essential workers showed up to work in agricultural fields, in food processing plants, and in restaurants when we most needed them. They showed up to work, risking their lives to keep our society going. Without immigrant labor, our food supply chain would have crumbled, causing untold panic and harm in society. 

The same cannot be said of everyone. Our federal government did not show up for immigrant families, instead ignoring their struggles as families lost income, depleted savings, and amassed debts. They excluded immigrant families from receiving relief that could have helped them stay current with bills and pay rent to stay housed. 

Seeing the injustice of excluding immigrant families from relief, our neighbors stepped up to lend a hand.

MAF raised $55M to provide 63,000+ grants to help undocumented families, workers, and students cover basic and immediate needs. But as we wind down our rapid response grants program, we know it was clearly not enough. The need was immense and intense. COVID-19 devastated the financial lives of families, and it will take them years to recover. 

We are ready to do more. At MAF we are moving from rapid response grants to providing long term support to families with children who are now excluded from receiving the expanded Child Tax Credit. Over one million immigrant children without Social Security numbers are not getting support. We are launching MAF’s Immigrant Families Recovery Fund with $25M seed funding to provide immigrant families a guaranteed income up to two years. Participants will receive direct cash, intensive financial coaching, self-advocacy training, and access to MAF’s suite of credit building and zero interest loans to help rebuild their financial lives faster. 

At MAF, we’re bringing all that we have to bear in the fight against poverty, just as essential workers did in the midst of the global pandemic.

And we want to do better. We plan to evaluate, study, and share what we learn from their recovery journey to inform and inspire policy solutions for meaningful systems change. 

Listening to Silvio’s music makes me appreciate the fact that, whether we’re slaying translucent serpents or battling fires or fighting poverty, it takes real conviction and hard work over a lifetime to ensure any victory. 

This has never been a one-time fight for us, but the fight for our lives. That’s our truth.