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Tag: Member stories

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.

Passing up opportunities: my life before citizenship


My journey from DREAMer to U.S. citizen with Lending Circles for Citizenship

People usually celebrate their first anniversary with paper, but I like to do things my way. I celebrated my 14th anniversary of living in the United States with paper: the N-400 form. This form is a promise my mother made coming to life. It is the opportunity for me to get my U.S. citizenship. With lots of joy and excitement, a little packet that includes the N-400 form, my passport pictures, and a check, I started my process to become a U.S. citizen on April 1st. This simple set of papers means the world me. It is my struggle, my mother’s struggle, my sisters’ struggle, and it is the promise of a better future.

My immigration story is just as much about my mother as it is about me.

My mother sacrificed so much to bring us here and she overcame so much to raise us in a place that, at that time, was foreign to her. My mom left El Salvador escaping a violent marriage, leaving her daughters and her life as a nurse behind as her last push for survival. She left her family, her job, and the life that she knew so that we could have something better – something more than she ever could.

I left El Salvador two years after my mother, when I was 11 years old, with the promise that my sisters and I were going to reunite with her and we would get to go to Disneyland (most immigrant children I know come with that promise, even though we haven’t been able to make that trip… yet).

Instead of Disneyland, and movie stars I came to live in scenic Oakland, CA, which is still pretty cool!

Even though our first apartment was small and cramped, it was packed with love and laughter. I moved years later to San Francisco where I was able to set roots. But those roots weren’t immediately allowed to dig as deep into the soil as I had wanted.

It was when I was a teenager that I realized what it really meant to be undocumented. While in high school, I let go of many opportunities because of my status. I wasn’t able to join a group of girls visiting Washington D.C. because I was a liability to the school. I also couldn’t apply for internships to build my experience because I did not have a Social Security number.

And then I had to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.

I was full of curiosity and wanted to explore my new home, but being undocumented limited me to explore California. Back then, no one but my best friends knew I was undocumented. I was the only one in my Senior class in that situation and I was too afraid to explain the *real* reason why I had to turn down so many great opportunities.

Then I had to pass on the opportunity to attend the University of California Los Angeles because it cost too much and I couldn’t qualify for financial aid. Back in 2006, when I was deciding what college to go to, there were few resources for undocumented students. We had AB540 which allowed us to pay in state tuition but I was not able to qualify to Cal Grants or federal financial aid like my citizen friends did. So I ended up going to San Francisco State University and made it through college thanks to scholarships from the Chicana Latina Foundation Scholarship that did not require a social security number in order to qualify.

It took more than two years of overcoming immigration hurdles to become U.S. residents, something that I don’t say lightly.

To be able to become a U.S. citizen, you must wait five years after becoming a resident in order to apply. A year ago, anticipating our 5th anniversary of becoming U.S. residents, I invited my mom and sister to join a Lending Circle for Citizenship. I found out about this program while interning for the Cesar Chavez Institute of San Francisco State University. I was working as a student assistant collecting surveys for an academic evaluation on the financial practices of individuals in the Mission district.

While working for the school, I found out about the different programs that MAF offers – one of them being Lending Circles for Citizenship. I signed us up so that the money we needed to apply for the citizenship application would not stop us. For the three of us, it was going to cost over $2,000 just to apply.  With rising living costs in San Francisco, it has been getting harder for my mom to keep up with the rent while also supporting my sister’s college career. The program has helped us put money aside each month for this important application. We knew that our money would be safe with the Lending Circle program and that we would be able to access it once we were ready to apply.

In the Lending Circle program, we each made monthly payments of $68 for ten months to be able to afford the $680 for the cost of the citizenship application.

Becoming a resident has been a huge blessing. I have been able to get a job that I love and travel to places that I only would have dreamed of years ago. I loved Lending Circles so much that I knew I had to be part of MAF. I was thrilled to join the staff at MAF in the summer of 2014 as a Programs Coordinator. My job enables me to help individuals whose stories resemble mine. I see in them the challenges and opportunities of my own experience as undocumented in the US and I want to be there to help them through their journey. Now that I am in the process of becoming a citizen, I am particularly excited to be able to officially express my vote, 2016 presidential elections, here I come!

I submitted my application for citizenship on April 1st of this year and I am waiting to continue the interview process and get sworn in. I continue to encourage my mom to do the same by keeping her up to date on all of the citizenship fairs happening in the city, preparing her for the interview questions, and helping her in small but persistent ways (like installing the citizenship app on her phone so that she can study on the go).  My goal is for her to apply by the end of this month.

I want to do as much as I can to help my mom on her path to citizenship – just as she has done so much to support my sisters and me.

For me, immigration means opportunity. It means survival. It means stripping away the violence and hurt from a broken home, to make new memories and impact in a country you now call your own. Life in the U.S. has given me many opportunities but it has also come with its fair share of struggles.

From my early memories of living in a cramped studio apartment with my sisters and mother, hiding in the shadows for 9 years because of our undocumented status to walking into my final interview for citizenship. In the face of all of that I celebrate, I cheer, and I smile.

This celebration isn’t only for me. This celebration is for everyone that has struggled, and fought past every roadblock, every slap, every name hurled at them, in their journey to  find peace, and a better life for their families. These victories and struggles have brought me closer to my mother, my sisters, and finding a better life for myself as a citizen of the United States. Now, as I take the final step, I reflect back on the long, rocky path, the paper I celebrated my anniversary with, and my impending citizenship.

If you know someone who could use Lending Circles for Citizenship, please encourage them to sign up today at LendingCircles.org.

Diana gets tails wagging with a small business loan


For Diana, dogs are so much more than little balls of love and fluff

Growing up in Mexico, Diana’s mother treated dogs like they were members of their own family. But when Diana moved to San Francisco at age 12, her family no longer had the space to accommodate a dog. She longed for the day she could bring a family dog back into her life, but it wasn’t until after college that she was able to make this dream happen.

After studying interior design at City College, Diana began her career working with a Home Stager. This was rewarding because she could make any house into a work of art. She could take an everyday kitchen and make it look like it was the set of a fancy cooking show, or a living room make it look comforting and homey just by arranging furniture and light.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, no one was looking to sell a house, let alone hire someone to make it look nice. The crash left her without a job and forced her to rethink her career trajectory. That’s when Diana began to look back on her childhood memories.

“I love animals, but I never thought there was a career in them,” Diana explained.

Diana decided to take a risk and jump into a new profession to start a job at a doggie daycare. She had been a lifelong pet owner, and doted on her French bulldog like a loving mom, but she had never done something like this professionally. But she quickly noticed some limitations with the work.

She loved every minute of working with the animals, but found herself frustrated by the long hours, low pay and limited upward mobility. As a result, Diana began looking for ways to become her own boss and set her sights on a opening a dog walking business.

Diana wanted to go to a bank and get a business loan, but she couldn’t. Even though she had lived in the U.S for most of her life, was a college graduate and had a full time job, she had no credit score.

“Once I knew I wanted to start a business, there was no turning back.”

She heard about a local nonprofit that could help her create a business plan through a friend and there she was able to get her dog walking business off the ground. One of the things that business planning taught her was how to find her niche. Diana decided that she didn’t just want to have a typical dog walking business. Instead, she wanted to combine her love of animals with eco-friendly values. She wanted to make sure that every part of her business was eco-friendly – from organic treats and foods the dogs enjoy, to sustainably sourced toys, and even biodegradable waste bags.

Within six months, she had her business license and Green Urban Dog was born. Now accredited to provide animal care, her eco-friendly services were ready to go by 2012. The next hurdles were building her credit score, getting more training and building a client base. To build her credit, she joined Lending Circles, where she went from zero to over 650 in just a few months. She then spent over 56 hours training in CPR and dog walking to learn the ropes. And by the end of 2013, she was able to land her first client. But before she could really call herself Green Urban Dog, she had one final obstacle to overcome.

Diana’s final hurdle was her gas guzzling car.

“I was spending nearly $90 a week in gas alone transporting the dogs across the city,” she said. She knew that she could save money, and fully green her business by purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Even though Diana now had a credit score, and enough income to make the monthly payments on a loan, her score was still below prime and so she couldn’t qualify for an auto loan for a car.

Diana came back to MAF because she heard about a program that provided zero-interest small business loans to business owners. With MAF’s help, Diana received a microloan for her business. She was able to purchase a used, energy efficient car to drive the dogs around. Since then, Diana has joined Lending Circle for Business to keep building her credit so she can gain access to larger loans from banks in the future.

Now with 12 full-time clients, Diana’s business is growing fast. She specializes in working with short nose breeds like English and French bulldogs – a tactic that helps her gain loyal and long term clients. She even runs a “Short-Nose Adventure club” for the pups that provides activities designed for short-nosed breeds.

“I tell everyone that I know, ‘go to Mission Asset Fund for a small business loan.’”

Building credit for the long-term while getting a zero-interest business loan has been a huge boost. Diana’s advice to aspiring business owners? Go for it! Although the road will be hard and scary, she believes “the sun shines for everybody” as long as they work towards their dreams.

Do you know of a small business owner like Diana in San Francisco? Tell them to sign up today at LendingCircles.org.

When Passion Ignites a Path


After an eye-opening experience at a cleaning service company, Reina Aguilera left to start up her own business.

As a young child in her home country of Honduras, Reina Aguilera found herself cleaning and organizing her house so often that her family used to joke about her incessant need to organize.

When she grew older, she pursued an education in international business, unaware that her childhood habit would eventually turn into a career path. After four years in college, Reina got married and decided to move to the United States after seeing all it offered during her honeymoon in the Bay Area.

Though her husband found work in the United States quickly, Reina did not have the same luck.

Feeling homesick and frustrated that she didn’t have a fulfilling job, Reina began to question their big move to the United States. She made the best of the difficult situation by exploring San Francisco, taking English classes and developing a new network of friends.

Eventually, she landed a job as a housekeeper working for a cleaning service in the Bay Area. She loved the work and was eager to learn more about the business. But there was one problem: her boss made Reina’s work very stressful and unpleasant. This job challenged her idea of the U.S. as a place where anyone could pursue his or her dreams – a place where nothing bad could happen.

She felt like her world had been turned upside down.

The harsh introduction to the cleaning services world left Reina determined to be her own boss; she wanted to start and run the best cleaning services company on her own terms. And that’s exactly what she did.

After quitting her job, she took on a position at a taqueria during the week and slowly took on houses for her cleaning service on the weekends. Reina began with one client whom she found through her church community, and Reina’s Cleaning Services was born.

Slowly but surely more and more clients came her way as word got out about her excellent services.

When she and her husband divorced, Reina had to face many emotional and spiritual battles. Overcoming three miscarriages placed a heavy toll on her and made her feel that she would never be able to bear children. After separating from her husband, she now had more time to devote to her dreams.

She soon met the man who would become the father of her child. Despite the odds against her, Reina discovered she was pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl in 2007. As her personal life took an exciting turn, so did her professional life.

Reina started taking business classes at Women’s Initiative (ALAS), and when time came to expand her business, her teacher referred her to MAF to get a loan. She joined Lending Circles in 2009 and used the money from her first loan towards the purchase of her first car, an essential investment that allowed her to travel to her clients’ homes. Since then, she has participated in 9 Lending Circles. She has used her loans to buy equipment for her business like a new vacuum and for repairs on a car.

Her participation in Lending Circles has enabled her to invest a total of nearly $4,000-$5,000 in her business.

Reina’s involvement with MAF has led to more than just investment in her business. She has watched her credit score increase with the scale of her business; a total of 77 points.

At age 39, Reina continues to stay active in the Lending Circles program and with MAF not just to continue building her credit, but also to pursue the other opportunities MAF offers her like business classes and new programs like the Lending Circles for Business Owners. She has also referred many of her friends to MAF’s services.

For Reina, MAF represents much more than just a place to grow her business; it’s a place where she can be empowered to grow as a person.

Reina looks forward to day she can hire her first employee, and hopes to hire those are in the position she was once in herself – those struggling to achieve their dreams. She also wants to her daughter to grow up and look to her business as a source of pride.

Reina ended our conversation by expressing her desire to inspire others. Despite all that she has been through, she has made it through and MAF is proud to have played a small part in helping her make her dreams come true.

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.

Blanca: Building her Beauty Salon Business Dream


Blanca’s come a long way from her days braiding her sister’s hair.

Blanca’s childhood wasn’t always happy. Growing up in Mexico, her family was not supportive of her drive to learn, and constantly told her that she would be better off learning how to clean and be a wife. The happiest times that she had with her family were the days that everyone would line up and ask her to cut their hair. For Blanca, haircare was an outlet for her creativity that she learned from her uncle, one of the few people in her family supportive of her talent.

As she grew up, she knew that she wanted to own a salon. After discovering that her uncle had his own barber shop, she quickly swept up his scissors and found herself  eager to give haircuts to family and friends. But after she got married, the time spent raising her family made her lose touch with her passion. It wasn’t until she came to the United States to get better care for her daughter’s medical condition that she began to entertain her dream once again.

After coming to the United States, Blanca realized her first step to achieving her dream was going to beauty school.

To accomplish this, she needed to save money for the expensive tuition fees. After working two jobs for several years, she finally decided it was time and enrolled in California Beauty School. But Blanca could not transform into a full time student over night; she still had to work eight hours each day on top of her studies.

“I was working, working, working; but I never gave up,” she said.

Upon graduating, Blanca went in search of salon jobs. She worked for little or no pay to learn everything she could taking jobs at different salons throughout the Bay Area, even though they were hesitant to train her.

“At every single salon, I learned a little something new.”

Once she built up her list of clientele and had accumulated a great deal of expertise, she saw her opportunity to move to salon owner. Opening up a new salon often requires taking out loans, so Blanca was determined to build up her credit to access them.

Though she sought advice from local credit-building and finance organizations, Blanca left these conversations “depressed and confused.”

Mission Asset Fund soon connected her to several business classes where she gained a better grasp on what it would take to get her business up and running, and she slowly began mapping out her business plan. Through MAF, she accessed business loans so when the chance to purchase a salon came knocking at her door, she was prepared. The owner of the salon she was working in was ready for retirement and looking to sell, so it was a prime opportunity for Bianca.

Though the transition to salon ownership was by no means smooth sailing.

Like every other stage of her life, Blanca had to fight hard to get the right documentation to establish ownership. Mountains of paperwork and licensing agreements delayed the process. Finally on October 1st, 2014, the salon became hers. Now Blanca can finally turn her focus on expanding her dream. Knowing all too well the difficulties that arise as a new employee of a salon, her goal is to attract people with a drive to learn and pay them well as they are trained. “I want the best for them and the best for the business.” She recognizes that certain employees may learn faster than others and may have strengths in specific areas.

“Like the fingers on your hand, all of us are different.”

The salon is now a family affair. Bianca and her daughters all manage a piece of the business. In the future Blanca wants to expand her business to include a beauty store, make up salon, and multiple hair salons. And with her drive and motivation, it’s hard not to believe in her success.

Leonor Brings Sunshine to the Community


Find out how Leonor used Lending Circles to launch a business to promote good health in her community

For as long as Leonor Garcia can recall, the driving force in her life was to support her community. Even when she was a little girl in El Salvador, Leonor says she always had a keen sense for business, but would use her savviness to help the people around her.

She grew up on a sprawling tobacco farm which her father and mother were in charge of. On the side, her mother owned a small shop that sold food, beverages and other items for the men working in the field. Leonor would spend all of her time tagging along with her father as he inspected the fields, managed the workers, and tended to the crops. When the growing season had ended, she would go with her mother and watch her negotiate sales prices and contracts with various companies and stores that wanted to purchase the tobacco.

Leonor learned a great deal about business and the relationship between products and money, but she also learned that working for the community yields the greatest rewards.

Leonor went on to become a teacher in a local school. For her, teaching children was a dream job. She worked her way up to become the headmaster of the school. During this time, Leonor kept her dream of entrepreneurship alive by owning and running a highly successful grocery store. After she retired from teaching, she decided that it was also time to sell the store. Leonor needed a new adventure and she knew just where to find it. She knew that in the US she would have more opportunities and more freedoms to grow a business.

After moving to the US in 2001, Leonor wanted to start her new business immediately, but she was blocked. Whenever she went for a loan, she was denied because she had no credit. For Leonor, that was a slap in the face. She had run a highly successful business in El Salvador while running a school. She also grew up watching and learning everything she could from her parents.

Leonor wouldn’t give up, but she needed a reliable way of getting money and building her credit. That’s when she found out about Mission Asset Fund through one of her friends. She was able to get a micro loan and build up her credit for future investment. The loan helped her purchase a generator, display shelves and other medical equipment to open up her business, Leonor’s Nature Sunshine.

Leonor’s Nature Sunshine is a business built upon Leonor’s desire to help people live healthier lives.

She provides the latest natural health products, supplements, diagnostic tests and homeopathic remedies for people’s needs. A few minutes in her chair and Leonor will know exactly what ails you and how to fix it! Leonor believes in finding affordable products that treat the root of the problem and the whole system. Her most popular products are for digestion, chlorophyll and probiotics.

Leonor’s store used to be located in a flea market in Richmond, but after her surgery, she moved it to the comfort of her home which was also more private and confidential for clients. She is so client-centered that if they can’t pay her upfront, clients are able to pay her in installments for their purchases. Leonor has become so popular that people come to her house daily to have a meeting with her.

After she appeared on local TV last year, Leonor said she was inundated with calls as soon as the interview was over.

“People said ‘it’s such a blessing to have your phone number!’,” she recalls with a laugh.

Through her successful business Leonor has been able to focus on healing her community and she’s got big dreams for her future. “ I want to have more capacity and more recognition to help people have a satisfied, healthy life,” she says. Leonor also wants to challenge herself new trends in her field, attend conferences and become savvier with social media. She hopes to improve her economic status and begin training others as health promoters.

Right now, Leonor is training her husband, a welder, to work with her in the business. Her interest in nonprofits motivated her to be an ambassador and funder for A New America’s first entrepreneurship class as well as donate funds and time to various nonprofits around the Bay Area. She says that without MAF, none of this could have ever happened and she is thankful every day that she has been given this amazing opportunity to be Mother Nature in her community.

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.

Claudia: Becoming a U.S. Citizen


From Mexico to San Francisco, this stylist followed her dream and is a proud new U.S. Citizen

There was a buzz of excitement in the crowd sitting in the balcony of the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Smiling families and friends waved American flags and excited children clutched bouquets of flowers. It was just like a graduation ceremony with life-changing certificates and congratulatory speakers. But this was a citizenship ceremony. In a few moments, everyone on the floor below would be U.S. citizens.

The immigration officer on stage told the soon-to-be citizens: “This country is a better place because of your talents, character and personality. Thank you for choosing the U.S.”

Claudia Quijano proudly stood with 1,003 other immigrants from 93 countries of origin listening to the speech. Each person was asked to stand up when their country of origin was called, at which point the audience would cheer until all the aspiring citizens were standing. America’s melting pot was right here in this room together from Guatemala, to Egypt, to Germany, to South Africa.

The ceremony featured video messages from Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Obama welcoming the new citizens to the country and emphasizing the significance of this privilege and duty. The keynote speaker was an immigration judge and daughter of Armenian and Finnish immigrants, who talked about civic engagement and serving one’s country.

Claudia’s journey started 9 years ago, August 2004, when she immigrated by herself from Mexico to Santa Rosa. She applied for political asylum and moved to San Francisco shortly after. Back in Mexico, Claudia studied at a beauty school and became passionate about coloring hair. She began styling in 1987 and had her own salon in 1991. She dreamed about finding success in the United States but knew she would have to compete with so many other immigrants and American citizens.

“It’s incredible. For me, it’s a very important day. It represents the most important goal for me in my life,” she said.

When Claudia first arrived in the US, she had trouble getting the right paperwork for legal residence. She obtained a lawyer who helped her become a permanent resident but then discovered that it was still difficult for her to secure the kinds of jobs she wanted because she was not a citizen. But Claudia was not discouraged.

She worked as a stylist at a salon in the Mission District when she learned about Mission Asset Fund and the Lending Circles for Citizenship program, which connected aspiring citizens with resources and access to funding for the $680 citizenship application fee. She was overwhelmed with how much MAF was able to provide her with the information she needed.

“Everyone there was always happy and helped me a lot,” she said with a smile.

In January 2014, Claudia joined a Lending Circle for Citizenship and received her check for the $680 application fee. She described the application process as “easy” because of the involvement and support of MAF and other nonprofit organizations.

Claudia is excited for many benefits that will come as a citizen, but the opportunity to vote is number one.

“There are many responsibilities I now have,” she said. “The most important is I can vote and improve my life.”

The candidates recited the national anthem followed by the oath of citizenship and pledge of allegiance. The moment was an emotional one for Claudia.

“I almost cried in the ceremony. My favorite part was singing the anthem with everyone. We were all singing and feeling happy,” she said.

Her advice to other immigrants and aspiring citizens is to fight for your dreams and not give up.

“Believe in yourself and look for places to help you,” she said.

The ceremony closed with a local choir singing two classic American folk songs, “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Claudia’s long-time friend, Maritza Herdocia, joined her after the ceremony to celebrate her achievement. Claudia named Maritca as a main support for her over the past eight years.

For Claudia, becoming a U.S. citizen means unlocking more opportunities. For years, she has worked as a hair stylist, renting chairs in small salons in San Francisco. But now that she’s a new American, she is ready to take on something even bigger: opening her own beauty salon.

Little Plates, Big Heart


Find out how MAF’s microloans can turn little plates into big business

In the middle of La Cocina’s large kitchen in the Mission District, a small woman moved with the graceful precision of a swan.

Gliding between steaming trays, boiling pots, and simmering pans like a gentle breeze, she smelled, tasted, and seasoned everything in a dreamlike blur. Around her were three other women, all moving with the thoughtful synchronicity of a well trained dance crew. Each woman was conducting a symphony of tasks over an orchestra of pots and pans.

Ximena and I felt like interlopers when we entered into the kitchen and asked for Guadalupe. But without missing a beat, the stout woman sprinkled a little salt into a pan and walked over to us beaming with pride.

“Ah”, she said “we missed you last week.”

Ximena and I apologized for not being able to visit her at the El Pipila tent at Off The Grid, San Francisco’s hub for the best food the city has to offer.

“It’s OK,” she said, waving her hand gently.

“I was so busy, I could barely talk to anyone!” she said with a giggle. For Guadalupe, life was not always as good as it was today.

When Guadalupe was a child in Acambaro, a small city in Mexico, she had a large loving family.

Her father, like many others, had to leave them and travel to the United States as an undocumented worker to support his family. He would send whatever pay he could to her mother so that she could take care of the children. Because of his status, he couldn’t visit with them, and had to stay separated from them for a better part of Guadalupe’s childhood. In 1986, her father received amnesty as an undocumented person, and in 2004, he finally became a citizen. Unfortunately, Guadalupe and her siblings were unable to get citizenship themselves, as they were now older than 18.

Like her father,Guadalupe ended up leaving her two daughters behind for the opportunities that the U.S. provided. As she recounts having to say goodbye to her daughters, tears begin to well up in her eyes. She remembers the moment she had to leave her little girls, how she knew she would never see them grow up, go to school, or attend their first dance.

She quickly composes herself, then turns around and points to one of the women cooking behind her.

“That’s one of my daughters”, she says proudly. The woman gives us the same beaming smile as Guadalupe. Her daughter is not just another chef, but a partner in the business.

The other women in the kitchen with Guadalupe was her mother, who had come to see the business her daughter had built. Guadalupe’s daughter was there as well, working alongside her mother. Three generations of women, together, building a business based upon cultural traditions and hometown flavors.

Guadalupe built her business, El Pipila, from the ground up. She worked almost every job possible in the restaurant business, until one day her friend Alicia told her, “You should just open a restaurant.” From there she built her credit and finances at Mission Asset Fund, went through La Cocina’s incubator program, and received one of MAF’s microloans. When she started her business it was just her. Now, she employs her whole family in one way or another.

Cooking for Guadalupe has always been a family affair, and today was no different. Guadalupe drifts in and out of thought as she talked about how she and her mother would make the tastiest tortillas from scratch and now, she and her daughters do the same.

She fondly remembers all the time spent with her siblings and mother in the kitchen. Each child had a specific duty and would always take the utmost care in completing it. For them food wasn’t just sustenance, it was the love of family made tangible and delicious.

With one of MAF’s microloans, Guadalupe was able to buy equipment and partially pay for a van for her thriving catering business. She is careful to tell us that even though she is doing well now, when she started she thought her catering business would never make it. Her food didn’t immediately catch on so she had to be very patient. It took her a few months, but people started coming to her booth and requesting her for events and dinner parties.

She now dreams of one day having a small food stand, a brick and mortar location that families can come to. When we asked why she is doing this, she looks back at her daughter and says, “I am doing this for her and her sister. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.