Tag: Member stories

Francisco’s Story: Strength in the Time of COVID-19

Francisco has always hustled and made sacrifices to keep his family safe and financially stable. Before COVID-19 hit the Bay Area, Francisco and his wife were eager to save and make their big vacation plans a reality. Since Francisco was often working during weekends and holidays, his four young children were especially excited to get away and visit extended family in Oregon. At the time, it was difficult to imagine how quickly their plans and lives could change due to the coronavirus.

“We thought it was something that can be controlled. We didn’t think it would come here since it was something that felt so far away. But sometimes life brings us surprises. Good ones or bad ones – we never know and we can’t always be prepared for what’s going to happen.”

When the shelter-in-place order was instituted in March of this year, their world as they knew it turned upside down. Francisco’s wife was laid off from work and schools closed down, forcing their children to stay home and inside. That’s when their family began to struggle. Francisco and his wife did their best to educate themselves and their children about the pandemic with the limited information they had at the time. As a local chef, Francisco is considered an essential worker, so he was the only one who left the house to work and buy groceries.

A few days after his birthday in April, Francisco broke out in a fever.

He was sweating, shivering, and shaking all over – to the point where he was no longer able to walk, taste food, or even talk. He searched his symptoms on Google and determined that somewhere and somehow he had become infected with COVID-19. His wife also started experiencing mild symptoms a couple of days later. To avoid spreading the virus to their children, the couple locked themselves in their room, fearing for their family’s future.

“My fever was the highest during the first four days. It was really hard. My wife and I cried because we couldn’t be close to the children. I was already thinking the worst. How are my kids going to manage? What’s going to happen to my family? It was the worst four days of my life.”

Fortunately, Francisco gradually started to feel better and regained his mobility after weeks of bedrest. Although the darkest days have passed, Francisco continues to worry about his family’s livelihood amidst the coronavirus and economic crises.

COVID-19 has made it abundantly clear that financial stability is fragile – especially for immigrant families in America.

Francisco is no stranger to hard work and perseverance. As the sixth of nine children, Francisco started working at the age of 12 to support his family in the fields in Yucatan, Mexico. Pulled by the promise of prosperity and pushed by a desire to help his younger siblings continue their education, Francisco decided to drop out of school and migrate to the United States when he was 18 years old. 

After his original plan to go to Oregon fell through, Francisco settled in San Francisco to pay back the coyote who helped him cross the border. He took on multiple odd jobs at once and worked his way up from a dishwasher to a chef. Now, in his free time, Francisco enjoys enticing his family with different types of dishes, taking his wife out on dates, and spending quality one-on-one time with each of his four children. 

Francisco feels both fortunate for and proud of the life he’s built for his family over the past 23 years. He’s always tried to do the right thing and live life with dignity and respect. Like millions of other immigrants, Francisco pays taxes on the income he earns. Yet when his family needed it most, the federal government excluded them from critical financial relief from the CARES Act due to their immigration status.

“We are all human and need to be treated the same. It is upsetting because we also pay taxes. Although we are not from here, we still pay taxes, but never qualify for anything. We deserved that help too. But that’s not how things are and what’s left for us to do but accept it? We are strangers. We are invisible. That is how we see it – we are invisible.”

In times of struggle, Francisco found strength in family and community.

When the federal government turned its back on them, Francisco leaned on his community and loved ones for support. His two oldest daughters took care of their younger siblings while he and his wife were ill. His younger brother dipped into his savings to help them pay rent. His employer continued to offer health insurance, meals, and other resources. After Francisco and his wife tested positive, even the City of San Francisco followed up to ask how they were doing and offer food assistance. 

Francisco first heard about the MAF Immigrant Families Fund from his son’s school. He and his wife each applied and received the $500 grant for immigrants left out of federal coronavirus relief. They used MAF’s grants to pay utility bills and make late credit card payments. Although Francisco couldn’t benefit from many emergency relief programs because of his status, he’s grateful for all the support he did receive.

“There are many things you can’t do and can’t apply for when undocumented – especially during the pandemic. To get the stimulus check, you have to have papers. To get a loan, you need a social security number. I can’t travel to see my family or even get on an airplane. We are locked down. But I don’t want anything from the government except respect and equal treatment.”

The financial devastation of COVID-19 simply can’t be overstated. While the impact of the global pandemic is far-reaching, the Latinx community has been hit disproportionately hard. Since he has experienced the coronavirus himself, Francisco is now a resource for his community and advises others on how to take care of their health during this unpredictable time.

Francisco also understands that economic recovery won’t happen overnight and that it’ll take a long time before his family can feel the relative stability of pre-COVID days. But he’s determined to continue pushing forward and taking care of his family through this crisis. After all, everything he does is to ensure that his children won’t have to struggle in the same way he has in the past.

“I was stressed a lot. I was worried. But when I don’t know what to do, I always think of my children. I want to be healthy for them. I want to see them grow up and see what they can achieve in life. That is the reason I stand here today. I keep going to do what is best for them.”

Taryn’s Story: Finding Transformation in the Uncertainty

Taryn Williams’ magnetic personality and infectious laugh easily overcome the monotony of the typical video conference call that’s become all too familiar for many of us. A full-time student at the California State University Long Beach and mother of five-year-old twins Isaiah and McKayla, Taryn is no stranger to the challenges of a heavy load under trying circumstances. As she eats her lunch during our video conversation, she excitedly talks about her Executive internship at Target this summer. She leans back to show me her packed color-coded calendar filled with thesis assignments, GRE practice tests, and application deadlines. “It’s absolute madness,” she comments with a wide smile. 

Like many college students, Taryn has experienced the significant disruption that COVID-19 has brought upon the day-to-day social interactions on bustling college campuses. Loss of a passionate exchange of ideas, loss of a study space, and, as a mother of two young children, Taryn has also lost access to childcare and free meals. For Taryn, college was not only her place of academic and personal growth, but it was also her social safety net. “Financial security for me was strongly tied to being in school. When COVID happened, I didn’t get my stimulus check, my husband’s work hours were cut, I lost my government assistance.” As a recipient of MAF’s CA College Student Support Grant, Taryn was able to buy food and basic needs for her family. Losing critical income and food support for her family created new sets of challenges nonetheless. But for Taryn, this was another chapter in a long story of perseverance and hope. 

Inspiration and Hope Emerge in Unlikely Moments

“My children are my driving force for everything I do. I went back to school when they were fifteen months, and that was pretty crazy.”

At 31 years old, Taryn decided she wanted to have a picture of herself in college graduation regalia with her children. And she picked a particularly unexpected time in her life to do that.

“When I went back to school, I didn’t have childcare, I had just totaled my car, we had been forced out of our housing due to gentrification. So, I had no place to live, didn’t have a bank account, didn’t have a job, didn’t have a car, had these two newborns. I really wanted to tell myself that this wasn’t the time to go back to school. But I just kept going.”

More than ten years earlier, Taryn had started college but ultimately had to take a permanent break. Taryn describes the agony of attending school for years and trying to stay focused while dealing with one curveball after another. Raised in the foster care system, Taryn had attended over a dozen elementary schools growing up. She moved so often she worried she didn’t know how to properly read and write. When she was 19, her dad lost his job and left town. She was left homeless. She experienced substance abuse and depression. “Unable to provide basic food, shelter, and clothing, school was just no longer a priority for me.” Nearly ten years after taking a leave from college, Taryn enrolled in Long Beach City College to pursue her associate’s degree. Her goal in coming back to school: show her kids what an alternative future could hold. Timing – where she was in her life and who she had with her – was everything for this new beginning.

The Power of Being Seen and Heard: Finding a Voice in Community and Acceptance

It took that one “A” in her chemistry class to completely change Taryn’s academic trajectory. She was then recommended to the Honors Program. Taryn didn’t feel like that was where she was at all, she recalled with an incredulous laugh. 

“Joining that honors program and having people there totally accept me for who I am – and really meeting me where I was in that part of my academic journey – was really reinforcing.” 

Stepping out of her comfort zone lit a fire in her to keep going. People’s encouragement fueled her motivation and her belief in herself. And then it happened: she got her first 4.0 GPA. “Getting that 4.0 made me realize that I shouldn’t judge myself based on my prior experiences.” She now knew she had to go even further.  

In 2018, Taryn transferred to Cal State University Long Beach with the President’s Scholarship, the most prestigious merit-based scholarships awarded by the university.

“Those scholarships are for 18-year-olds, fresh-out-of-high school valedictorians, who have over a 4.0 GPA. I’m in my 30’s, I have kids at home, I didn’t have a cumulative 4.0 GPA. What did they want with me, I thought?”

But Taryn found her voice on campus. The support she received when she arrived was so overwhelming, she finally felt comfortable sharing a part of her life she had always been quieter about: she had previously been incarcerated. Taryn had been incarcerated right before her twins were born. She never wanted to bring that up before, because she felt she’d be deemed untrustworthy. She didn’t think people would really believe she was a “changed woman.” 

She found healing in opening up. “It was freeing, humbling, and because I’m naturally so loud and free-spirited, I just tapped into that. It gave me so much self-esteem.” She was hearing from students with her background that her openness was helping them heal as well. Taryn found strength in her communities of support, and uses this strength to fuel her motivation to keep going.

Changing the Narrative as a Scholar and Advocate: Looking Beyond COVID-19

Right before COVID hit, Taryn had just given a TEDx talk on bias and judgement, particularly around previously incarcerated people and the negative stereotypes people hold about them. “I come to the stage with a blazer on, and people look at me with a certain type of respect. Then, after a while, I take off my blazer, showing a bunch of tattoos, and people then become more aware of my piercings. Then they look at me differently. They judge me and I can feel it.”

Taryn is on a quest to change the narrative around previously incarcerated and foster youth’s chances at higher education attainment levels.

She wants to apply to PhD programs and become a faculty member at a university one day so she can advocate for and support her communities. Taryn plans to graduate this December with a double bachelor’s in management and operations supply chain management. 

Yes, she deeply worries about COVID’s implications and how she’ll manage her kids’ school schedules this fall now that they’re starting kindergarten.

“Being a parent in college during a pandemic might be one of the harder things I’ve gone through.”

As she finishes her thesis, completes her internship, applies to PhD programs, and actively juggles the needs of her family, Taryn is putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing her journey ahead. She proudly shows me a canvas of her associate’s degree graduation photo with her kids – full regalia and all. She can’t wait to collect more pictures.  

“My biggest hope is that people will understand that you really, truly can do whatever you want. You have to seek out your community. You have to be willing to speak up for what your needs are, and then say when your needs are not being met. Most importantly, you have to be willing to ask for more –you have to know that you’re worth asking for more. And, anything is possible.” 

“Any last words?”” I ask, still soaking in the depth of Taryn’s casual summary of life lessons. “Yes, wear a mask!” she exclaims with laughter. 

Xiucoatl Mejia: Connecting Communities…From A Distance

Art is entrenched in Xiucoatl Mejia’s being. His creative talents can be seen in the beautiful depictions and designs that he has produced as a tattooist and a muralist. Xiucoatl, a twenty-year old native of Pomona, California, is still defining his identity as an artist, but he has articulated this powerful vision—to use his creative energy to (a) uplift the stories of his own indigenous community and (b) engage and connect members from different backgrounds. 

What does this vision look like in practice? One of Xiucoatl’s most cherished projects is a mural he proposed and designed as a high school student in Claremont, California. The ‘Legacy of Creation’ mural features sixteen thought leaders and activists from around the world. His vision was to create a mural that engaged the school community in both substance and process.

“The paint on the mural came from a lot of different hands — teachers, students, and school faculty. This is something that should be emphasized with any sort of community art.”

Like many artists, Xiucoatl has been forced to modify the tools that he once relied on to achieve this vision in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way communities engage with each other. These changing social dynamics have left us with the difficult and unfortunate task of labeling work as ‘essential’ or ‘non-essential’—a distinction that has resulted in the loss of work for so many hard working artists and creatives. But in spite of these circumstances, artists like Xiucoatl continue to navigate this difficult moment in creative ways.


Xiucoatl’s creative endeavors are inspired by his family, culture, and community.

Xiucoatl’s family is originally from Mexico, and his parents were born and raised in East Los Angeles. His father, also a tattooist and muralist, was always involved in an art project in his house or in the community, and this upbringing inspired the artistic pursuits of himself and his two sisters. Xiucoatl distinctly remembers accompanying his father to paint murals around their neighborhood in Pomona. His father worked at Good Time Charlie’s, an iconic tattoo parlor founded in the 1970’s in East Los Angeles focused on bringing the fine line style of tattooing to the professional world of tattooing. The fine line style has rich cultural roots. It’s a style born from the resourcefulness of incarcerated Chicanx community members who relied on the tools available to them —like needles and pens—to create tattoos that honored their narratives.

Xiucoatl’s work as a tattooist is inspired by the fine line chicanx style as well as his identity as a member of the Tonatierra indigenous community based in Phoenix. His parents always made great efforts to engage with the traditional rituals, ceremonies, and traditions of their community, and Xiucoatl was deeply inspired by their commitment to engaging with their heritage and the beauty of the traditions themselves.

“My father sun danced. Growing up, I remember attending sun dance and tipi ceremonies, and this really shaped my connection to and understanding of my community. My parents always actively inserted themselves in their community, and this is something I try to do as well.”

Xiucoatl’s family emphasized the importance of knowing the history behind a given art form and instilled in him a curiosity about the cultures and communities around him. He has incorporated his parents’ teachings in his approach as a tattoo artist. He acknowledges that tattooing is an ancient art form, and indigenous communities across the world have engaged in some version of this art form. As a result, he invested his time in studying the practices of these communities, including traditions from Japan and Polynesia. Xiucoatl notes the important symbolic value of tattoos, especially for indigenous communities like his who have experienced horrific atrocities at the hands of colonial powers:

“I’m coming from a people who have experienced one of the most brutal genocides in history. I want to give our communities designs that they can use to identify with their other camaradas and give them something that ties them to the land below us. Tattoos are something that make us feel sacred and connect us to the sentiments that our ancestors felt—many of the sentiments that we still feel today.”

The pandemic has forced Xiucoatl to develop new skills to support himself and his family.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way communities engage with each other, and Xiucoatl’s artistic pursuits were not immune to these changes. Xiucoatl was working at a tattoo parlor just as COVID-19 cases were rapidly increasing in the United States. Under California’s stay at home order issued earlier this year, tattoo parlors throughout the state were ordered to close. Artists and creatives from a wide range of industries suddenly found themselves unemployed, and the expenses and bills continued to pile up. Though the federal government expanded unemployment assistance to self-employed workers under the CARES Act, which allowed a number of artists and gig workers to receive benefits, the assistance is simply not sufficient to manage the losses that the pandemic has produced.

In an effort to pay his rent, bills, and other essential expenses, Xiucoatl turned to creating and selling drawings. He was able to purchase supplies for his drawings with the support of MAF’s LA Young Creatives Grant. The LA Creatives grant is an effort to provide immediate cash assistance to the nation’s most vulnerable communities, including artists and creatives. Thanks to the generous support of the Snap Foundation, MAF quickly mobilized to offer $500 grants to 2,500 creatives in the Los Angeles area as part of the scholarship initiative.

In addition to selling his drawings, Xiucoatl has invested his time in learning a number of new skills to support his family. He recently picked up plumbing, tile work, and throwing concrete to help his family complete renovations to their family home. When asked about the insights he has collected from navigating these unprecedented times, he says:

“Our people, our communities have always found ways to thrive and to hustle. They were thriving and hustling much before the pandemic. Now, there are hundreds of people struggling together. Many folks are starting to understand the struggle of communities around the world whose only choice was to live with these fears and to survive like this.”

In terms of his own profession, he’s hopeful that the pandemic will actually bring about positive changes. He believes that tattoo parlors will become more diligent about complying with safety and hygiene standards. He also remains hopeful about his own future and the future of creatives and artists across the nation. Though this has been a painful time for many communities, he believes that there will be a lot of beautiful work that reflects the inequities and resilience highlighted by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It will be interesting to reflect back on this time. There will be a renaissance of artists producing great pieces and a lot of great artwork.”

Xiucoatl’s story illustrates the incontestable reality that art—in all of its forms—is essential to enabling people to connect with each other through empathy, shared space, or shared experience. Legislative designations aside, art is essential.

To see more of Xiucoatl’s drawings, please visit his instagram account @xiucoatlmejia. All work for sale is posted to his instagram. If you’d like to inquire about prices or commissions, please send a direct message or email to [email protected].

Prioritizing Education in a Pandemic

The pandemic has halted the world’s usual activity, allowing the dust to settle and revealing inequities that lay just below the surface.  The cracks in our social bedrock are now painfully visible in many sectors, not least of which is higher education. Even before this moment, so many students had to overcome staggering barriers to access and navigate our higher education institutions.  First generation students, for example, often juggled multiple jobs and a full course load to reduce debt and support family.  Students with children balanced their studies alongside care-taking.  The stresses of our pandemic reality have only magnified these challenges.

But as always, they persevere. Driven by the hope of using their education to support their families and communities, these incredible students carry on.

At MAF, we recognized our duty to use our platform to support students as they weather this crisis (on top of managing a full course load and a full life load). This is why we started the California College Student Emergency Support Fund — an effort to offer immediate relief to students in the form of $500 grants.

Below, we’ve included a few statements shared by grant recipients that illustrate what their educational opportunities mean to them and the valiant efforts they are making to continue their education during these difficult times.

As a former foster youth, I have already aged out of a lot of programs and services that could support me financially. Given the current pandemic, there are few to no programs to help students in situations like mine. This grant would allow me to take control of my life and alleviate the burden that this pandemic has already placed on me and my family.

-Sheneise, CA College Student Grant Recipient





Due to the pandemic, I was forced to move back home in order to support my dad and my brother. I support my dad financially, and I also pay rent on an apartment near campus. When the lockdown ends, I know I will have little to no money left, and I am also at risk of losing my remaining two jobs. I have a lot to manage, and this is affecting my academics. I want to break the cycle of poverty through my schooling, but these adverse circumstances make this goal very difficult. This grant is important because it provides security and relief.

-Gabriela, CA College Student Grant Recipient



I am currently 8 months pregnant with my second child. I am no longer able to walk across the stage for graduation. I must give birth alone due to the travel restrictions that are in place. I cannot easily access childcare because most facilities are shut down. I spent six years in the navy, and all I could think about was getting out, getting my degree, and doing something I love. I’m ready to graduate strong so I can do what I love for once in my life. I want to show my daughter that she can do anything and be anything no matter what life throws at her.

-Chelsea, CA College Student Grant Recipient



One year ago, I was living on the streets with my children. After losing my daughter to the court system, my son to the county jail, and my husband to state prison, I found myself alone, hopeless, tired, and ready for change. I had reached the point in my life when I had to make a stand and better myself. With my first granddaughter on the way, I wanted to start right away, so I decided to enroll at Coastline Community College. Regardless of what comes my way, I will continue my education. In three years, I hope to be a Professional Paralegal Assistant.

-Betty, CA College Student Grant Recipient



The challenges of the past few months have made it nearly impossible to focus on my education, and I have thought about dropping out to find a part-time job to support my family. Since 2013, I have dedicated so much of my life to this higher education experience. Now, I’m within reach of a huge milestone in this journey and I don’t want to walk away from it. It’s a difficult road ahead, but I’m confident that the skills I’ve gained throughout my life will allow me to stay resilient and work towards obtaining my degree in environmental science while continuing to support myself, my loved ones, and my community.

-Cristobal, CA College Student Grant Recipient



I was working in security and catering—which both involve large gatherings of people. I don’t know when I’ll be able to schedule any gigs in the near future. This grant is important because it could help relieve some of my financial burdens during these troubling times. I believe that grants like this are what help young poor people like myself to continue our education and to pursue careers that can help us and our families.

-Patrick, CA College Student Grant Recipient

Pilar’s Story: An ode to Prince and homeownership

Pilar celebrates her one-year homeownership anniversary this year. Her home is a beautiful, cozy, and peaceful place in South Minneapolis. She recalls the warm and loving home her mother created for her when she was young, and feels a sense of pride in the home that she has been able to create for herself.

 

A bold and passionate young girl growing up in a small town in Minnesota, Pilar and her mother had a very close knit relationship and relied on each other for support. 

Pilar’s mother struggled to make ends meet as a single parent working a number of factory jobs. Despite the financial hardships, she provided Pilar with a warm and loving childhood. She made sure that her daughter was given every opportunity. When Pilar showed a passion for dance, her mother signed Pilar up for ballet lessons and sent her to a performing arts school.

In high school, Pilar was a cheerleader, a dancer, and a musician. She was never afraid to express herself – from sharing her opinions to dressing how she wanted to dress. She was a child of the ‘80s who adored the movie “Purple Rain” and the musician Prince. She saw parallels between herself and Prince: both were Minnesotans who never quite fit in and had dreams to make it big.

“Prince came from poverty, and was able to accomplish so much with so few resources. He gave people hope that they could make it too. He had a big influence on my life, and I listened to his music to get through hard times.”

Pilar worked hard and won a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s University, making her mother immensely proud. 

She dedicated her professional life to public service, and she eventually moved to the Twin Cities after she was offered a job at Project for Pride in Living (PPL). PPL is an award-winning nonprofit organization in Minneapolis dedicated to empowering low income individuals and families to become self-reliant. Pilar is now the face of PPL. She works the front desk at PPL’s Learning Center, and she’s the first point of contact for anyone who walks through the doors. She hears intimate personal stories on a daily basis.

“I always wish that our clients only knew what they were capable of when they first walk in to the office. When I hear stories of people coming into PPL, I understand their stories and their background. I can relate. This is much more than a job for me – it’s a mission.”

PPL has employment and training programs, and holds graduations for participants who complete their programs. It’s common for graduates to express their thanks to Pilar at their graduation ceremony, saying that it was her encouragement and smiling face that made them sign up and stay on track.

 

Pilar first heard about Lending Circles from Henry, a fellow staff member at a Project for Pride in Living. PPL first started offering Lending Circles in 2015, and so far, they have served over 40 clients and generated a loan volume of a little over $13,000.

Henry encouraged her to sign up for a Lending Circle so she could both better explain the program to prospective participants and work towards her own financial goals. At the time, Pilar didn’t have any credit — she wanted to avoid credit cards because she’d heard stories about people spiraling into debt. Her only experience with credit was her student loans, and this wasn’t enough credit history to provide her with a credit score.  

She met with a credit counselor and, for the first time ever, realized that homeownership was within reach as long as she could build her credit score. Motivated by this news, Pilar signed up for a Lending Circle. Her group decided on a monthly contribution amount of $50, and she felt closer to the group after each member shared information about their financial goals. When it came time for Pilar to receive her loan, it was the end of June in Minnesota and the heat was sweltering. She used her loan funds to purchase a much needed air conditioning unit. Pilar was living paycheck to paycheck at the time, and she could not have afforded the unit without the Lending Circle funds. It was not only a relief to her, but also her two dogs — brother and sister rescues —  who were suffering from the heat. She described the financial education videos that accompanied her Lending Circle as “eye opening.” For the first time, Pilar felt comfortable managing a budget.

“This might sound crazy, but I honestly didn’t know that I had to pay my bills on time.”

 

Pilar is now a proud homeowner. “If it wasn’t for the Lending Circle and meeting with Henry, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” she says as she reflects back on the process. Pilar’s whole demeanor lights up when she talks about her home. She describes the house as a place that “lets me be who I want to be. After a stressful day at work, it provides a wonderful reprieve.”

But there is an additional bonus for Pilar. Her house is right next door to a very special house – known as the “Purple Rain house” to locals – the house that appeared in the iconic 1984 film featuring Prince.

Pilar knows her home purchase was meant to be. On the one-year anniversary of Prince’s passing, fans poured into her neighborhood in the rain and congregated at the Purple Rain house. Even though Pilar never ended up as Prince’s neighbor, she still feels like the magic of his presence and his legacy in her neighborhood. Laughing, she says, “at night, I think I see purple lights coming out of the basement. It’s really something.”

On the topic of of homeownership, Pilar says “I thought it wasn’t possible. So know that it is possible, regardless of where you find yourself.”

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.

It’s who you ask that matters


A conversation with a founding member paints a picture of what a new member-driven council will contribute to the Lending Circles program.

It’s about keeping it real. As we grow and evolve, we know that engaging real people will be key to gathering feedback that improves and informs programs and products. With this in mind, we set out to form our very first Member Advisory Council (MAC) earlier this year.

The goal? To encourage dialogue among clients who use our programs and take a closer look at their experiences. The Member Advisory Council will provide advice on new programs, the client experience, and will help shape our strategic goals.

Last month the Member Advisory Council, made up of 8 of our clients (a.k.a. members) representing the diversity of our community met for the first time. We sat down to get to know one of those members, Santos, and to hear what MAC means to him.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I grew up in the heart of District 9, most commonly known as “La Mission”, at 26th and Valencia Streets, where the intersections saw me grow and become who I am now. Growing up in La Mission, it gave me perspectives that you don’t get to see or experience in other Districts in San Francisco. La Mission is full of cultures from every corner of the world. We have locals that are very outspoken, that are not afraid to speak against injustice.

What do you do for a living?

Growing up with some of the La Mission ideals, I wanted to do something for my community, something that could teach – or how we say it here in the Bay, “Speak some game” – to the younger generations. So I started working for the Bay Area Urban Debate League. As the regional coordinator for San Francisco, I am in charge of all the programs that the League has here in San Francisco. I work primarily with the High Schools such as Mission High School, Wallenberg High School, Downtown High School, June Jordan School for Equity, and Ida B. Wells High School.

Why did you join the Lending Circles program?

I joined a Lending Circle because my mother thought it would be a good way to start generating some credit. At first I was skeptical. I knew what a Tanda was but those were sometimes sketchy and didn’t always work out. Fast forward to 2016 and I have done 3 or 4 Lending Circles.

One of the things that I enjoy the most about the Lending Circles is the finance class you have to take. It is a requirement to take the class every time you join a Lending Circle. The constant reinforcement of financial education is key. I’ve learned so much from that constant reminder. I’m constantly trying to get people to join the program. I usually just show them the website and tell them a bit of my story.

What was your reaction when you learned about MAC?

When I got the call, I didn’t know how to react. I happened to be on the roof of my building when I got the call. The call came in as a breeze of air, it was like deja vu. When I spoke to Karla about becoming part of the first group of MAC members, it was a no brainer and I immediately said yes.

What part of MAC is most exciting to you?

One of the things that Is really interesting to me is that you get to represent a community. You get to speak for the people that cannot be heard. That’s a power that not everyone gets to feel. The decisions that MAC members will make, will affect the community and that’s what’s really got my attention.

The fact that I get to experience and be a direct decision maker for the community is beyond my dreams. With the help of the seven other members we can make our community better. The first generation of MAC members will set the standards for the next generation and so on we will build a group that prioritizes the community.

MAC’s next meeting is scheduled for August 3rd where the group looks forward to discussing their goals for the coming year.

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.

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