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Forming a community with Lending Circles

When you join a Lending Circle, you aren’t just getting a simple loan.

It was a chilly July evening in the MAF office in San Francisco; a gentle wind carried the pleasant smells and sounds of the vibrant Mission District through the streets. Inside the brightly lit MAF office, Doris and Ximena were working to set up the room for one of our Lending Circle formations. In San Francisco the lights of the city were just starting to blink on, as families returned home; half a world away in Guatemala, families were returning to piles of rubble and ash that used to be their homes after a rather violent earthquake.

Emergencies have a tendency to strike when you aren’t expecting or ready for them, but with the support of a strong community even the biggest emergency is easier to deal with. Doris and Ximena welcomed guests to the formation that evening. There were many new and familiar faces in the room. The air filled with conversation, anticipation and a sense of apprehensive hope. For many people in the room, they had been promised miracle fixes and unbelievable opportunities to help them gain a stable financial foothold.

A lady in a neatly pressed, green blouse talked excitedly to the man in the white t-shirt next to her about how she was here to build her credit, and then use the money to help pay for a car. Two women across the room were giggling and chatting about their day like two old friends, even though these ladies had only been introduced to each other 20 minutes prior.

One woman sat in the front of the room, her red t-shirt picked up her rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, a huge smile across her face.

She talked with the people around her, but chose to only say that she needed the money to help out her. The man in the white t-shirt said he too was there for his family. He was building his credit back up after his business had to close. Ximena and Doris quieted the room and began talking to the members about the formation process and how being a member of a Lending Circle worked. As they talked about the details of the process, the new people were busy taking notes, and the returning members were letting them know which pieces of information were of specific importance to their success in the Lending Circle program.

At the end of the informational session, Doris then asked the group what their needs were and how much money they were looking to get.

One voice said she needed to build savings and credit to buy a car at a good rate. Another person said he wanted to buy some new equipment for their business. Half the group requested a $2,000 loan, while the other half only needed a $1,000. When Ximena got to the woman in the red shirt, the woman stood up and looked at the members. She took a deep breath, her smile still soft and inviting on her face. She then told the group how she needed to get this money for her family in Guatemala. Recently, there was a terrible earthquake and her mother had been trapped inside the rubble that was once her home. Her mother had been rescued and was now safe and recovering from surgery, but once she recovers, she will have no home to go back to.

The woman in red talked about how when she was without a home, MAF had helped her find and pay for a safe, stable place for her and her two young children.

Now that same community was going to be able to give her mother a place to live after her emergency. She was grateful to know that there was always a place for her to come when she needed something, and she appreciated that there was always a community there to support her and her family. Doris and Ximena then disbanded the group for dinner, so that they could talk amongst themselves about what the loan payments would be and other terms of the loan. The returning members spoke to the new members, giving them tips on how to best use the Lending Circle. By the time dinner came to an end, everyone’s group had come to consensus about what their Lending Circle would look like. The $1,000 group came up and talked about what order people were going to be receiving the loans. They talked about the payments, and they also talked about how excited they were to start. When the $2,000 group stood up to talk, they had come to a decision as well.

After hearing about why the woman in red needed the money, they decided that she should be the first one to get it. She needed it far more urgently than anyone else in the group.

Once the meeting concluded, everyone started to file out of the MAF office into the crisp summer evening, all chatting and smiling. When you join a Lending Circle you aren’t JUST getting a loan, you are becoming part of a community that looks out for one another. A community is there for you whether you are looking to buy a car, build your credit, or get support when an emergency hits.