Tag: microloan

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.

Welcome Ximena, Financial Services Manager


She brings her passion for business and community to the MAF team!

Ximena Arias joined MAF as a Financial Services Manager in May 2014. With her passion for entrepreneurship and her multicultural upbringing, she was a perfect fit for the job.

Born in Colombia, Ximena moved to the US at age 12 with her parents and younger sister. After the family settled in Miami, Florida, Ximena struggled to adjust to middle school. Luckily, her English as a Second Language classmates became a support group for her.

“We all related to each other being bi-cultural and gained an understanding of how to relate to others,” Ximena said.

Back in Colombia, Ximena’s parents ran a dental product supply business. Her father was the strategy behind the business, overseeing the operations, while her mother was the face of the business, working to bring in clients and build relationships with dentists in the area. Ximena believes she is a combination of her parents and picked up invaluable skills from both of their experiences.

Ximena loves being surrounded by diversity and describes Florida as a “big melting pot of Latin American immigrants.”

She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French and some German. She attended the University of Florida and received a BA in Linguistics and Business Administration and later a Masters in International Business. After she graduated, Ximena taught English and worked with international students.

Coming to the Bay Area, Ximena wanted to give back and follow her passion for connecting people with the resources they need to make better, informed choices. She worked at Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment before coming to MAF. She appreciates the Lending Circles model because it is familiar to immigrants and practiced all over the world. In her role as Financial Services Manager, Ximena oversees small business coaching, the microloan program, financial education and local client management.
“I love the way MAF sees a bigger picture, which is critical to make a difference. It’s really accessible and replicable in a way that works with communities and partners, ” she said.

“Replicating this program is an example of how nonprofits leverage technology and I am looking forward to seeing the organization grow.”

Working in the Mission District gives Ximena fond memories of Latin America from the food to the businesses and art. Outside of work, she loves music and hopes to one day compose her own songs. She’s also really great at whistling any song you tell her! Ximena enjoys exploring the thriving community and culture of Oakland, where she lives with her husband.

Welcome to the team, Ximena!

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”.

Microloan Spotlight: Elvia Buendia, Cupcake Boss


Elvia loved desserts, so she followed her heart and opened her own cupcake shop!

Elvia Buendia grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. As the youngest of 6 children, she was raised in a protective, loving, moderate-income family. She had a passion for desserts which stemmed from spending time in the kitchen with her mother who would use farm-fresh ingredients to whip up delicious homemade pastries and cakes.

Elvia studied computer programming for three years and then got married. After a few years, she and her husband decided that they wanted their family to have more opportunities and moved to San Francisco.

Elvia thought that she would be able to stay at home with her children and work from home as a computer programmer. She found it hard to find stable work and decided that it would be better to focus on raising her children.  One day, her son asked her what she loved to do most, she answered: “Baking.”

And that’s when everything changed.

The first cake Elvia made for her family afterwards didn’t turn out well because she mixed up using Celsius and Fahrenheit cooking temperatures in the recipe.

“ I remember dumping the cake out on the the plate and it fell with a thump. My son then exclaimed, ‘Look, Mommy made a tire!’” she recalls, with a laugh.

After that, Elvia signed up for cake decorating and baking classes as a hobby. Once she began taking her cakes to friends and parties, people wanted her to bake them cakes as well.

“That’s when I thought, oh I can start a business!” Elvia says.

But starting a business was not simple. Elvia had a lot of debt at the time but after coming to Mission Asset Fund for help, she was encouraged to apply for a microloan. She used the $5000 loan to invest in a fridge, business license and a number of necessities to grow her bakery, La Luna Cupcakes.

Baking homemade desserts may seem like a luxury to most people, but for Elvia, it’s an essential part of her day and something she believes anyone can do if they truly enjoy it.

She believes in using fresh, natural ingredients for her cupcakes and cake pops just the way her mother taught her.

Red velvet, mocha chocolate, honeymoon cranberry orange, are just a few of the delicious flavors Elvia offers. La Luna Cupcakes started as online orders only and worked out of the La Cocina incubator. Elvia would deliver the orders and cater special events herself.

In 2013, La Luna Cupcakes was able to move into a physical store in the Crocker Galleria in downtown San Francisco. Elvia also has hired 4 employees to work with her, including her husband who joined last December!

Elvia’s life is very different from what she dreamed of.

Running a business can be stressful financially with the challenges of sales and promotion, but she says she has a simple and easy life. She’s been married for 25 years and has two kids- a 22-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. Even after all these years, her favorite thing to do is open the oven and smell the fresh cupcakes.

“It makes me think of all the time I spent with my mother in her kitchen,” Elvia says with a smile.

This December, Elvia will have paid off her loan and looks forward to expanding La Luna Cupcakes. Her goal is to open up stores in two more locations and she cites her children as her motivation to continue her business.

“I always taught them if you want something, you can do it! Believe in your dream!”


Nesima Aberra is the Marketing Associate and New Sector Fellow at Mission Asset Fund. She loves storytelling, social good and a good cup of tea. You can reach her at [email protected].

MicroLoan Spotlight: Yeral Caldas, Feeding the heart

Yeral was born in Chimbote, a coastal city in Peru. He has two brothers and two sisters. His mother had her own business and his dad worked in the field. After his parents divorced, he would go back and forth between them helping them work during his vacation. He would travel with his mother for her grocery business and then go to his dad who later worked in a restaurant. Yeral loved food and enjoyed working in the kitchen, preparing and cooking classic Peruvian meals.

It was there he began to dream of becoming a chef.

Yeral had a solid background to succeed as a restaurateur but coming to the United States for more opportunities brought on additional challenges. The two major ones he faced were the language barrier and not having a Social Security Number.

When Yeral would look for banks to give him a loan for his business, he was always blocked by not having a Social Security Number.

“Even though there was lot of difficulties, I was patient and had faith. I was convinced that the money would come because I had my idea of what I wanted to do,” Yeral said.

In 2011, Yeral was introduced to MAF through our staff members Joel and Doris. He credits them for reaching out to him, particularly because they both could speak Spanish with him and explained how MAF could help.

Yeral felt comfortable sharing his problems and his future plans to open his own restaurant. He went on to join two Lending Circles to build up his credit and applied for a microloan to invest in equipment and products for his business.

Yeral said his life has changed dramatically since coming to MAF. He feels more stable emotionally and economically and believes he can succeed as an entrepreneur.

His restaurant  Cholo Soy opened two years ago and he said it’s been “growing and growing.” Cholo Soy features a changing menu of Peruvian dishes like ceviche and Cabrito Norteno de Cordero (lamb shank). He cares deeply about creating a variety of dishes and highlighting the culinary offerings of all the regions in Peru to his customers.

Cholo Soy is growing in reputation. It’s on the first floor of Plaza Adelante building in the Mission District and currently only serves lunch. Once he has the capacity to do more, Yeral would like to be open all day from breakfast to dinner, hire more employees and move to a bigger location.

“My dream is to have many restaurants all over the country like a corporation and I manage them from the central location,” Yeral said.

His proudest moments have been when an article came out that gave Cholo Soy rave reviews and when senior city officials came to the restaurant and told him he served the best ceviche they’d ever tasted.

“When they say they want to eat my food, it makes me proud of my name and of my work,” he said. It’s not hard to see the passion and determination in Yeral’s eyes as he stands behind the small counter of Cholo Soy and happily passes out his food to the customers sitting on the bench in front of him. Despite the challenges of being an immigrant, he remains optimistic and even offered advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Don’t stop believing in your dreams. I believe in myself and that my food is great. There will be critics but don’t think about them. Just believe in yourself.”

Leticia: Rising up


There is a saying when one hand helps the other hand, and together they applaud much louder than one alone.

Leticia immigrated to the Bay Area in her late 20’s for a better life. In less than two decades, she owned two houses, started two successful businesses, and was married with two children. She even brought in two foster children to give them a safe home. But in 2005, a succession of disasters shook Leticia’s strong spirit.

Leticia’s husband filed for divorce and made her solely responsible for their mortgages. Her business partners walked out on her and later, she became too ill to work for herself. “I felt powerless to do anything to change my life,” she said.

Losing her home and steady income also risked Leticia’s role as a foster mother. But she did not want to give up her foster children. She was determined to rise up. Leticia began applying for loans to start a food cart business. When bankers saw her large mortgages, they hastily declined.

Leticia joined her first Lending Circle in 2011 ready for a new start.

“I thought it would take 5 or 10 years for my credit to improve. I didn’t have time to wait,” she said.

To her surprise, after 18 months, Leticia’s credit score jumped 250 points to 608.

Because she paid back her loans on time, she qualified for a $5000 microloan from Mission Asset Fund. This loan will help launch what will surely be the first of Leticia’s many food carts.

She is grateful for the support of the community in helping her change her life and take care of her family.

“There is a saying when one hand helps the other hand, and together they applaud much louder than one alone.”

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