Lending Circles at the Brown Boi Project

Building Credit & Confidence in LGBTQ Communities of Color

Carla’s first experience with a lending circle came long before she began working with Brown Boi Project, and long before she’d heard of MAF.She knew them as “cundinas,” and she first encountered them at the Los Angeles clothing factory where she started working as a teenager.

She and her coworkers formed the cundina to support each other in saving money. They each agreed to make a weekly contribution of $100.

It wasn’t an easy amount to save. Carla worked overtime to ensure she could make each payment. Eventually, she saved enough money through the cundina to finance a trip to Mexico, where much of her family was living.

Carla had taken the factory job knowing that her ultimate goal was to continue her education, and soon she enrolled in night classes at a local community college.

Money was tight, and the classes were expensive, so she took on heavy debt to finance her studies. She didn’t realize that she could have qualified for financial aid.

Shortly after beginning her studies, Carla suffered a back injury at work. Her employers stopped giving her hours, and she eventually went on disability and became a full-time student. She transferred to UC Santa Cruz, and a professor assisted her in applying for financial aid. Carla loved her coursework in Feminist Studies and Sociology, but the burden of her growing debt lurked in the background. She began skirting calls from debt collectors. She scraped by this way for years.

She spiraled deeper into debt. Her strong credit score of 720 plummeted, dipping below 500.

From Cundinas to Lending Circles

Shortly after graduating from college, Carla came across an job opening announcement with Brown Boi Project, an Oakland nonprofit that brings together masculine-of-center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen and allies to change the ways communities of color talk about gender.

She knew right away – this job was for her. Brown Boi’s mission and values echoed her own identity and experience. She applied without hesitation. Competition was steep, with over 80 applicants vying for the position. But Carla was right about her fit for the role. As she tells it, she and the staff at Brown Boi “just kicked it off well.”

She’d landed her dream job. But her debt and damaged credit continued to limit her.

She struggled to find housing in Oakland that would accept her low credit score. Fortunately, Carla had a friend who helped her find an apartment. But without a credit card, she couldn’t afford to furnish her new home.

“All of those things are so emotionally draining and stressful. I was feeling depressed. Your credit score can almost feel attached to your own worth.”

It was at Brown Boi that Carla learned about the Lending Circles program that MAF manages. She was familiar with the concept from her earlier experience with the cundinas. The promise of improving her credit score through participation lifted her spirit – she began to imagine the relief she would feel if her life were no longer controlled by debt, her options no longer curtailed by her credit score. After so many years of financial exclusion, Carla appreciated that Lending Circles were open to her regardless of her credit score.

Carla brought the same discipline and dedication to her Lending Circle that she had brought to the cundina years before. After Brown Boi became an official Lending Circles provider, Carla seized the opportunity to become the lead staff organizer for the program.

Carla finished her Lending Circle with 100% on-time payments. She paid down her debt and even managed to build up savings.

But despite her perfect track record, she was nervous to check her credit score. She had come to equate a credit score with feeling disheartened, discouraged, and stuck.

For almost a month after the Lending Circle ended, Carla delayed checking her credit. The same month Carla completed her Lending Circle, she was invited to attend a summit for innovators of color at the White House. She took herself suit shopping, comforted by the fact that she now had enough savings to cover the costs.

Carla found the perfect outfit: a grey suit with a red tie. At the register, the cashier offered her an application for the store credit card. Carla was accustomed to declining these offers, knowing she would likely not qualify. But this time, she applied.

And to her shock, she qualified.

“I qualified at a $500 limit! I was super surprised. I said, wait… What? I qualify?!”

Buoyed by this news, Carla finally pushed herself to check her credit score. She checked: it had risen 100 points to 650.

She paid off the store credit card and applied for a different card that offered airline miles. Again, she was approved – this time for a $5000 limit. Her next goal is save enough money to fly her mother to Europe next year.

What the Future Holds

Financial stability has transformed Carla’s outlook on life.

“I’m gonna be real,” she says. “I feel good. I have a credit card in case of emergency. I’m less stressed knowing that when I need the money, it’s there.” She adds, “I feel more grounded, like my life is coming back together.”

Carla feels passionate about starting more Lending Circles and encouraging more open conversations about financial exclusion with people of color in the LGBTQ community:

“There’s a lot of shame. It’s often taboo to talk about financial struggles in our community… Sometimes we think we don’t have these types of problems, but we do.”

She now keeps her spending under 25% of her credit limit and pays off the full balance of her cards each month. These skills are practical, but they have a larger significance to Carla. She sees financial education as a powerful way of mastering an economic system that so often excludes and disadvantages people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

“No one has taught us how to play this game,” Carla explains. “But with financial education modules, we learn the rules.”

On Food & Family: Isabel’s Story

Isabel joined a Lending Circle to help grow her business. This summer, her restaurant “El Buen Comer” opened in Bernal Heights.

Isabel is a MAF client and entrepreneur who used Lending Circles to expand her already successful culinary business. She gave these remarks at the MAFter Party, a celebration of MAF’s national Lending Circles network that took place on October 27, 2016. Her new Bernal Heights restaurant El Buen Comer helped cater the event.


My love for food began as a young girl, when I was living in Mexico City, where I was born. My mother and my seven sisters used to cook for the whole family, especially for the holidays. Cooking always caught my attention.

So when my family moved to San Francisco in 2001, I began cooking from my home in the Tenderloin.

It was a way of creating community in a new place.

I prepared traditional foods that reminded me of Mexico: stews, beans and rice, and tortillas that I made from scratch.

In 2007, a friend recommended that I visit La Cocina, an organization that supports women entrepreneurs, so I could formalize my business. That’s how my business began to grow.

I opened a stand in the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market and began baking the bread sticks for Pizzeria Delfina in the Mission. We decided to call our business El Buen Comer. I dedicated myself to creating authentic Mexican dishes. To this day, I still use my mother’s recipe for mole verde.

At first, it was hard. I had to invest so much — first in a truck, then in paying for permits for my business — that I didn’t have any profits at all. I felt discouraged – I remember commenting to my husband, “ I don’t know if I want to keep doing this.”

But my family supported me. One of my sons started writing me notes with positive messages to encourage me. I was determined, and I didn’t allow myself to give up.

I needed to buy an industrial steamer to sell my tamales in the Farmers’ Market, but it cost $1,400, and we just didn’t have enough saved. It was in that moment that I heard of MAF through a friend who had participated in Lending Circles with MAF. I joined my own Lending Circle, and for the first time, I had a safe, reliable way to save money.

In June, I opened my restaurant, El Buen Comer, on Mission Street in Bernal Heights. My husband, sons and I run the business together, and my husband still works at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

Even though the business isn’t physically in my home anymore, the restaurant practically is my home. I spend more time there than in my own house!

We decorated the restaurant with Mexican crafts, and also with the toy cars my sons used to play with when they were little.

This helps us remember how and where our dream began.

Lending Circles were our first financial door – they gave me access to loans to open my own restaurant, which is something I could never have imagined. But more important than that, they helped me learn to manage the financial system to open even more opportunities in the future.

My dream continues. We’re planning to form a Lending Circle within our family to keep building credit and help us realize our next dream.

Taking Financial Learning Beyond the Classroom

Lending Circles round out the Game Theory Academy Experience

Jasmine and Pasha’s friendship began during childhood, when the two girls were elementary school classmates. Eventually they were assigned to different middle schools, and they lost touch. But the two young women shared a deep commitment to their educations and their futures. It was this quality that would reunite them and that would ultimately lead them to join Game Theory Academy’s first Lending Circle.

Their reunion was unexpected and unplanned. In 2015, when Jasmine and Pasha were in their senior years at two different Oakland high schools, they both enrolled in “Make Your Decisions Count,” a class on financial decision-making with the Oakland nonprofit Game Theory Academy (GTA). They resumed their friendship as if no time had passed and began parallel learning journeys that would prepare them for lifelong financial security.

GTA’s mission is to equip young people with the decision-making skills and economic opportunities needed to achieve financial stability in adulthood. In “Make Your Decisions Count,” Jasmine and Pasha practiced slowing down their decision-making process and carefully considering the pros and cons of each step. They cultivated the habit of pausing before acting and considering the questions, “What’s in my best interest? And what do I need to know before I decide?”

Jasmine and Pasha knew these skills would aid them tremendously in important future decisions, such as selecting the best bank or making a plan to pay for college. But a key to Jasmine and Pasha’s success – and their ongoing engagement with GTA – was the opportunity to put their newly acquired financial skills into practice. They did this first through GTA’s internship program, and eventually through Lending Circles.

After completing Make Your Decisions Count, both Jasmine and Pasha became interns with WOW Farm, GTA’s urban farming and business program. They were eager for the chance to apply their new skills to a real business. And on a practical level, they both needed the job experience.

Pasha spoke to the value of learning and doing:

“By getting the GTA paychecks, we experience how to save it, budget it, take out $40 each time you get a check. You can talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Jasmine and Pasha successfully completed their internships and graduated from high school. But their learning wasn’t over: they both immediately enrolled in GTA’s “Crash Course in Job Readiness.” While many young adults who do not go directly to college get caught in a chaotic web of disconnected or stagnant activities, these two impressive young women refused to lose focus. They remained committed to their goals and took advantage of all GTA had to offer.

Jasmine and Pasha were skeptical of Lending Circles when the program first began at GTA. Jasmine, for example, was uneasy with the emphasis on credit. The only way she knew to build credit was with a credit card, and she wisely thought of credit cards as risky for young people without steady incomes.

But Lending Circles provided her with a way to build credit that she trusted. She described her comfort with the program: “You don’t have to worry about going over your credit limit since it’s always a set amount.” Pasha was similarly wary of credit cards. But at the same time, she recognized that not having a credit score would prove to be a barrier:

“You need a credit score to get a car, to do a lot of things. When you turn 18 and you’re about to go to college, all the banks send you credit card offers and sometimes the APR is really high and that can you mess up.”

For many young adults without much experience with formal financial transactions, the Lending Circles commitment can seem intimidating (a regular monthly payment!) and its value abstract (credit score, what?). But Pasha and Jasmine drew on their strong foundation in financial education to consider the benefits of the program. And more importantly, they had built a trusting relationship with GTA over the course of their participation in programs. So they took a chance and joined a Lending Circle.

The program was a success. Both Jasmine and Pasha began with no credit history at all — not uncommon for 18-year-olds. Now they each have a credit score over 650, which is 30 points higher than the average Millennial.

But a Lending Circle is more than a credit-building tool — it’s akin to a crash course in money management: participants have to save for a goal, repay a loan, plan ahead, and manage auto-pay transactions.

Thanks to Lending Circles, Jasmine and Pasha do not have to learn about credit the common way– by making mistakes that are hard to reverse. They’ve been able to build their credit safely, and with it, to build the foundations for a future of financial security.

Game Theory Academy’s ultimate goal is to equip young people with the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate what are often mystifying and high-stakes financial decisions.

Lending Circles are still gaining traction with GTA’s youth. But in a short time, the program has already gone a long way to deepen the organization’s financial capability services. GTA’s existing financial education modules expose young people to topics they don’t learn in school, and Lending Circles provide the opportunity to put what they learn into practice.

Jasmine now studies Mathematics at Chabot College, works at a popular restaurant in Oakland’s Uptown, and interns with a bookkeeper. Pasha has a role in community affairs with a construction company and studies at Merritt College. They are graduating from Game Theory Academy with what every young adult needs and deserves: strong skills in financial and strategic decision-making, extensive job readiness training, solid work experience, and a fantastic credit score.

Like most of us, they don’t know exactly what’s next. But they are well-prepared for whatever it may be.


Jasmin Dial, the author of this post, ran student engagement at Game Theory Academy from 2014-2016, including the launch and implementation of Lending Circles. She holds a B.A. from University of California at Berkeley and currently studies Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Sonia: A Future Chicago Homeowner

Building Credit and Community through Lending Circles at The Resurrection Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Freedom to Move: My DACA Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

DACA changed everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating the Many Moms of Our Community

This Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating all the “MAF Moms” working hard to create better lives for their families through Lending Circles.

This Sunday is a day dedicated to the strong, wise, generous, and caring mothers in our lives. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating a few MAF clients who are working hard to build bright financial futures for their families.

Three Generations of Chefs

For Guadalupe, cooking authentic Mexican cuisine has always been a family affair. As a girl, she and her mother made the tastiest tortillas from scratch, and now she and her daughters do the same. She used her Lending Circles loan to buy equipment and help pay for a van to expand her catering business, El Pipila — which she runs with her daughter to support their family.

When we last shared Guadalupe’s story in 2014, she dreamed of opening a small, brick-and-mortar food stand. Now, she’s a food vendor at The Hall in San Francisco and a food truck regular at Bay Area festivals. Guadalupe’s family is key to her success. “I am doing this for my daughters. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.

A Mom on a Mission

Helen, a single mom from Guatemala, came to MAF with a simple dream: to have a safe home for her children. Because she couldn’t afford the hefty security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, she had no choice but to rent rooms in shared apartments — including one with families living in hallways.

After joining a Lending Circle, Helen saved up enough for a security deposit and built her credit score. Now, she has her own three-bedroom apartment for her daughters, and even bigger dreams.

Whipping Up Cupcakes with Her Son’s Support

Elvia’s son ignited her passion for baking with a simple question: “Mom, what do you love to do most?” After building a reputation for having the best desserts at parties, her family and friends encouraged Elvia to start a bakery.

She used a $5,000 loan from MAF to invest in a fridge, business license, and a number of necessities to grow her bakery, La Luna Cupcakes. She now has a cupcake shop in Crocker Galleria in San Francisco, and her children continue to be her North Star. “I always taught them if you want something, you can do it! Believe in your dream!”

Thanks to Lesley Marling, MAF’s newest Partner Success Manager, for her contributions to this post.

Law School & Tamales: DACA Opens Doors for Kimberly

With the help of Lending Circles for DACA, Kimberly is finishing her degree and prepping her law school applications — all while helping her mom and sister grow their family tamale business.

It’s hard to miss Ynes’s tamale stand.

On weekday mornings in a quiet Oakland neighborhood, you’ll find all the energy of a street market packed into one small food cart. “I was about to get breakfast across the street, then I saw you all!” shouted one of Ynes’s regulars as she approached the cart.

For years Ynes and her daughters, Kimberly and Maria, have been coming to the same spot to serve up authentic Mexican tamales. Ynes and her husband moved to Oakland from Cabo San Lucas 20 years ago to create a new life, with more opportunities for their young daughters.

From an early age, Kimberly was determined to make the most of these opportunities.

Kimberly is one of the many thousands of young people who have used Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to attend college and secure jobs. And she’s one of the hundreds who have used Lending Circles for DREAMers to fund their DACA applications.

But before DACA, many doors were closed to her.

As a child, Kimberly worked hard in school and ultimately graduated with the grades she needed to go to a 4-year university. But because she wasn’t born in the US, she didn’t qualify for financial aid or even in-state tuition. Instead, she enrolled in a local community college that she could afford to pay out-of-pocket.

One evening, Kimberly saw a segment on Univision that would change everything: a profile of a local nonprofit that provides social loans to help immigrants build credit and apply for DACA. Hoping this could be the key to her dream school, she came to our office to learn more.

Two years ago, Kimberly joined her first Lending Circle.

Right off the bat, she found MAF’s financial management training extremely helpful. “In school they teach you how to do math problems and write papers, but they don’t teach you about credit,” she said. Next, with her Lending Circles loan and a $232.50 match from the SF Mexican Consulate, she applied for DACA and was soon approved.

Her new status lifted the barriers that had been holding her back from her dreams.

Kimberly could finally access the financial aid she needed to transfer to San Francisco State University. She was hired for two part-time jobs. And with better credit, she secured a loan to buy new equipment for her family’s business: tables, chairs, and canopies so their customers to sit and socialize.

Today, Kimberly is finishing her degree in political science at SFSU — and her second Lending Circle.

She’s giving back to her community by volunteering at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, an organization that supports refugees and immigrants in the Bay Area. She’s also studying for the LSAT and preparing her law school applications, working toward a career in immigration and family law.

And all the while, she’s helping her mom grow their family’s food cart business.

Kimberly and her sister Maria are still by their mother’s side, serving tamales to an ever-growing clientele. What’s next for the family business? With an improved credit history, they’re seeking a larger loan to expand their operations with a second food cart. Ultimately, Ynes dreams of opening a restaurant to bring her delicious tamales to even more eager, hungry customers.

Sandra: An Artist-Entrepreneur Brings Her Vision to Life

Sandra’s journey — and her dreams — represent the strength of the Mission community.

Sandra’s creative style is all her own, but her story speaks for an entire community. She’s one of the visionary artists and entrepreneurs San Francisco’s Mission District has cultivated for generations. With Friscolitas, her mobile screen printing business, she has turned her craft into a career. And with the help of MAF’s Lending Circles for Business, she has built the foundation she needs to take Friscolitas to the next level.

But it all started back in her hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico.

The Journey

Sandra was just 12 years old when her mother, a single parent in Zacatecas, made the courageous decision to move to San Francisco, driven by the promise of a better life. Coming from Mexico to the Mission was a tough transition for mother and daughter alike, but they never regretted their choice. Thanks to her mother’s support, Sandra thrived in her new home.

Dreaming Big

Sandra has always had a desire to change the world in a big way. With a work ethic that matched her ambitions, she earned 3 degrees from San Francisco State University. After graduation Sandra began a career as a social worker, but her inquisitive mind was always looking for new areas to explore. She witnessed the changing demographics of her neighborhood and took note of the forces reshaping her community. She knew she wanted to keep the Mission’s unique flavor alive and contribute something of her own to its culture.

Friscolitas: Mission Raised

Her interest in screen printing began with a brainstorming session — not about potential business opportunities, but about ideas for inexpensive gifts she could give her family. In the winter of 2011, Sandra approached friends in her network who could help bring to life the designs that, until then, existed only in her imagination. The result: beautiful t-shirts emblazoned with Sandra’s distinctive take on Dia de los Muertos “Calacas” (skulls), grinning with Mission pride.

What started as a do-it-yourself gift idea has since become an business venture for this entrepreneur. Now she brings her t-shirts to the community at local art galleries,
restaurants, concerts, and festivals. Friscolitas has a growing clientele, attracted by its unique artistic style and its authentic Mission roots. Despite this increasing demand, Sandra hit a roadblock. She struggled to secure an affordable business loan because of a low credit score.

That’s when she found MAF.

Through our Lending Circles for Business program, Sandra pushed her credit score above 800, boosting her confidence and giving her access to business loans with much better terms. Her zero-interest social loan is funding a Friscolitas website so Sandra can finally showcase her work online and reach audiences far beyond her neighborhood.

Customers leave Friscolitas with more than just a t-shirt. As Sandra puts it, they “carry around her art,” heading back into the world with an expression of their shared identity. And there’s no better symbol of the power of the Mission’s culture and the bonds of its community.

Dejando pasar oportunidades: mi vida antes de la ciudadanía

Mi camino de Soñadora a Ciudadana, y el ahora aprovechar todas las oportunidades gracias a Lending Circles para Ciudadanía

Las personas generalmente celebran su primer aniversario con papel, pero a mí me gusta hacer las cosas a mi manera. Yo celebré mi 14 aniversario de vivir en los Estados Unidos con papel: con la forma N-400. Esta forma es una promesa que mi madre hizo volviéndose realidad. Es una oportunidad para que yo obtenga mi ciudadanía en Los Estados Unidos. Con mucha alegría y emoción, con un pequeño paquete que incluía la forma N-400, mis fotos tamaño pasaporte y un cheque, comencé mi proceso para convertirme en ciudadana de los Estados Unidos el primero de abril. Este simple paquete de papeles significaba el mundo para mí. Fue mi esfuerzo, el esfuerzo de mi madre, el esfuerzo de mis hermanas y la promesa de un futuro mejor.

Mi historia de inmigración se trata tanto de mi madre como se trata de mí.

Mi madre sacrificó muchas cosas para traernos aquí y se enfrentó muchos obstáculos para criarnos en un lugar que, en aquel entonces, era extraño para ella. Mi madre dejó El Salvador escapando de un matrimonio violento, dejando a sus hijas y su vida como enfermera atrás en su último esfuerzo para sobrevivir. Dejó a su familia, a su trabajo y a la vida que conocía para que pudiéramos tener algo mejor; más de lo que ella podía darnos.

Yo dejé El Salvador dos años después de mi madre cuando tenía 11 años, con la promesa de que mis hermanas y yo nos reuniríamos con ella e iríamos a Disneyland (la mayoría de los niños inmigrantes que conozco vienen con esa promesa, aunque no hemos podido realizar ese viaje… aún).

¡En vez de Disneyland y estrellas de cine vine a vivir en el pintoresco Oakland, CA, que también está genial!

Aunque nuestro primer apartamento era pequeño y apretado, estaba lleno de amor y risas. Años después me mudé a San Francisco en donde pude echar raíces. Pero esas raíces no pudieron introducirse tan profundo en el suelo como lo había deseado.

Fue en mi adolescencia cuando realmente me di cuenta de lo que significaba ser indocumentada. En la preparatoria, dejé pasar muchas oportunidades debido a mi estatus migratorio. No pude ir con un grupo de chicas que visitaron Washington D.C. porque yo era una mucha responsabilidad para la escuela. Tampoco pude aplicar para pasantías para incrementar mi experiencia debido a que no tenía in número de Seguro Social.

Y entonces tuve que dejar ir una oportunidad única en la vida.

Estaba llena de curiosidad y deseaba explorar mi nuevo hogar, pero ser indocumentada me limitaba a explorar solamente California. En aquel entonces, nadie aparte de mis mejores amigas sabían que era indocumentada. Era la única en mi clase en esa situación y estaba temerosa de explicar la razón *verdadera* por la que dejaba pasar tantas grandes oportunidades.

Entonces tuve que dejar pasar la oportunidad de ir a la Universidad de California Los Ángeles debido a que costaba mucho y no podía calificar para un préstamo estudiantil. En 2006, cuando trataba de decidirme por una universidad, había pocos recursos para estudiantes indocumentados. Teníamos el AB540 que nos permitía pagar en matrícula estatal pero no pude calificar para Cal Grants o ayuda financiera federal como mis amigas ciudadanas. Así que terminé yendo a la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco y pudo terminar la universidad gracias a becas como la Chicana Latina Foundation Scholarship que no pedía un número de seguro social para poder calificar.

Tomó más de dos años de superar obstáculos de inmigración para ser residentes de los Estados Unidos, algo que no digo a la ligera.

Para poder convertirte en ciudadano de Estados Unidos, debes esperar cinco años después de ser residente para poder aplicar. Hace un año, anticipando nuestro quinto aniversario de ser residentes de los Estados Unidos, invité a mi madre y hermana a unirse a Lending Circle para Ciudadanía. Descubrí este programa durante mi pasantía en el Cesar Chavez Institute de la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco. Estaba trabajando como asistente estudiantil recolectando encuestas para una evaluación académica sobre prácticas financieras de individuos en el distrito de la Misión.

Mientras trabajaba para la escuela, escuché sobre los diferentes programas que ofrece MAF; uno de ellos siendo Lending Circles para Ciudadanía. Nos inscribimos para que el dinero que necesitábamos para la solicitud de ciudadanía no nos detuviera. Para nosotras tres, costaría más de $2,000 sólo por aplicar.  Con el aumento de los costos de vida en San Francisco, se ha vuelto más difícil para mi madre el estar al día con la renta y al mismo tiempo apoyar la carrera universitaria de mi hermana. El programa nos ha ayudado a ahorrar dinero cada mes para esta importante aplicación. Sabíamos que nuestro dinero estaría seguro con el programa de Lending Circle y que lo tendríamos disponible una vez que estuviéramos listas para aplicar.

En el programa Lending Circle, cada una hicimos pagos mensuales de $68 por diez meses para poder cubrir los $680 del costo de la solicitud de ciudadanía.

El ser residente ha sido una gran bendición. He logrado conseguir un trabajo que me encanta y he viajado a lugar con los que solamente había soñado. Lending Circles me gustó tanto que supe que quería ser parte de MAF. Fue emocionante el unirme al personal de MAF en el verano de 2014 como Coordinador de Programas. Mi trabajo me permite ayudar a individuos con historias parecidas a la mía. Veo en ellos los desafíos y oportunidades de mi propia experiencia como indocumentada en Estados Unidos y quiero estar ahí para ayudarles en su camino. Ahora que estoy en el proceso de convertirme en ciudadana, estoy especialmente emocionada de poder expresar mi voto en las elecciones presidenciales de 2016; ¡aquí voy!

Envié mi aplicación de ciudadanía el primero de abril de este año y estoy esperando continuar con el proceso de entrevista y juramento. Sigo animando a mi madre a hacer lo mismo manteniéndola al día con las ferias de ciudadanía al rededor de la ciudad, preparándola para las preguntas de la entrevista y ayudándola en maneras chicas pero constantes (como instalando una aplicación móvil de ciudadanía en su teléfono para que estudie). Mi meta es que ella aplique al final de este mes.

Quiero hacer tanto como pueda para ayudar a mi madre en su camino a la ciudadanía; así como ella ha hecho mucho por apoyar a mi hermanas y a mí.

Para mí, inmigración significa oportunidad. Significa supervivencia. Significa dejar atrás la violencia y el dolor de un hogar roto para crear nuevas memorias y experiencias en un lugar al que puedes llamar tu país. La vida en los Estados Unidos me ha dado muchas oportunidades pero también ha significado una buena cantidad de lucha.

Desde mis primeras memorias de vivir en un apartamento apretado con mis hermanas y madre, escondiéndonos en las sombras por 9 años debido a nuestro estado migratorio y hasta caminar hacia mi entrevista final para la ciudadanía. A la vista de todo eso celebro, me animo y sonrío.

Esta celebración no es sólo por mí. Esta celebración es para todos los que han batallado y luchado al enfrentarse a los obstáculos, a las bofetadas, a los sobrenombres, en su camino para encontrar paz y una mejor vida para sus familias. Estas victorias y luchas me han acercado más a mi madre, a mis hermanas y a encontrar una vida mejor para mí como ciudadana de los Estados Unidos. Ahora, mientras doy el paso final, reflexiono en el largo y dificultoso camino, en el papel con el que celebré mi aniversario, y en mi inminente ciudadanía.

Si conoces a alguien que pudiera utilizar Lending Circles para Ciudadanía, anímalo a que se inscriba hoy en LendingCircles.org.

Rosa: The Long Road to Citizenship

Obtaining U.S. Citizenship brings about a new phase in Rosa Romero’s life.

After a lifelong career as a teacher in El Salvador, Rosa decided to move to the US. After her sister got her housing papers, Rosa left her sons, students and her life behind to pick up and move on July 23rd, 2009 – a date she procures without a moment’s hesitation. Nearly 5 years since that date, she is happy to say she is now living in San Francisco as a U.S. citizen.

Rosa’s childhood makes it pretty clear that she is willing to follow her dreams no matter what others may think. 

Growing up in El Salvador with her grandmother and six siblings, Rosa lived a humble life. Her grandmother owned cows and goats and made sour cream and cheese from their milk. Rosa would sell these goods to a local market.

Though her grandmother hoped she would become a nurse, Rosa realized pretty quickly that her aversion to the sight of blood might make that impossible. She, instead, envisioned a life as a teacher.

After a 25 year long career as a high school science teacher, she can say she brought her dream to life.

To this day, her former students will stop her on the street or message her on Facebook thanking her for all that she taught them. These moments have made up some of her favorite times as a teacher. Her two sons, who still reside in El Salvador, have come to love their careers as an entrepreneur and a captain in the military just as much.

Rosa found her way to MAF through her sister who was a client at MEDA getting support to launch her own business. Her sister heard of the Lending Circles program and thought it would be the perfect way for Rosa to save the money necessary for the citizenship application.

The decision to join the Lending Circles program was relatively easy for Rosa.

She was familiar with the concept having taken part in informal lending circles back in El Salvador with her fellow teachers. It was even easier to join a Lending Circle at MAF when she learned of the strong history of success for its members.

Rosa believed so much in the power of Lending Circles that she joined another before even finishing her first and has been part of 5 in total in an effort to continually build her credit.

The Lending Circles program eases the financial burdens of becoming a US citizen by allowing participants to build their credit while making monthly payments towards the high $680 application fee. Once participants are ready to apply, they receive a check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For Rosa this meant she could focus her attention on all the other difficult aspects of the process; the largest of which was the language barrier. Rosa studied for the English exam for over a year. All of this effort was for an interview that would last her only about 10 minutes.

Immediately after the interview, Rosa learned that she had passed and was to become a citizen. Upon hearing the news, she thanked God for this opportunity and felt a wave of happiness come over her. With her US citizenship, she can now travel freely to El Salvador lessening the strain on her visits to family.

Rosa’s story perfectly exemplifies the character of our members. We showed her the door, and she had the strength to walk through it.



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