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Welcoming the Education & Leadership Foundation to MAF’s Lending Circles Partner Network

At MAF, we are always on the lookout for partners who share our vision of a more equitable world for immigrant families. Today, we are thrilled to introduce our latest addition to the MAF partner network – the Education & Leadership Foundation (ELF).

Based in Fresno, California, ELF is dedicated to empowering underrepresented communities through a range of essential services, including immigration support, equitable education opportunities, and social justice initiatives. What makes this partnership particularly special is the personal connection that brought our organizations together. It all started when ELF’s Executive Director, Matías Bernal, first learned about MAF’s services in 2016 as a DACA recipient himself. Over the years, Matías has stayed connected with our organization and referred clients to MAF. Then, in the fall of 2022, Matías reached out to explore what a formal partnership and bringing Lending Circles in-house to ELF could look like.

ELF’s journey began 16 years ago, focusing on supporting undocumented students at Fresno State University through educational programs. Since then, they have expanded their reach and evolved into a Department of Justice (DOJ) accredited immigration services provider. ELF provides the community with education, civic engagement, and immigration services, as well as professional development seminars, leadership development, professional development internships, scholarships, and volunteer opportunities. ELF also initiates special projects like utility assistance and financial education workshops in response to community needs. Many of their clients are Spanish-speaking, English learners, or first-generation immigrants. Around 80% of the families they assist began their financial journeys with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and approximately one in five of their clients either lack a bank account or have a deep-seated distrust of traditional financial services.

MAF’s Lending Circles program fulfills a crucial need for ELF’s clients, offering access to credit and capital when traditional loans and banking services are often out of reach or denied to the communities they serve.

At MAF, we believe that Lending Circles are a powerful tool for diverse communities across the United States. Our partnership with ELF is a testament to this belief, and we are excited about the positive impact we can create together in the years to come. We look forward to witnessing how Lending Circles will play a transformative role in ELF’s community, providing access to credit and financial education that can pave the way for brighter financial futures for immigrant families.

If your organization is interested in becoming a Lending Circles partner, we encourage you to reach out or join us for one of our upcoming Lending Circles Communities events. Together, we can continue to expand financial opportunities and empower communities across the country.

 

Research at Scale: Insights from our Latest IFRP Webinar

In our latest webinar, we pulled back the curtain to share how we are using technology and data with purpose in the Immigrant Families Recovery Program (IFRP). We provided a behind-the-scenes look at how we designed the IFRP program with a strong program foundation and data collection systems to ensure the reliability of our research results.

Christopher Dokko, MAF’s Evaluation Manager, gave an overview of our data collection process. He explained how we gather diverse data from our interactions with clients, including annual surveys, in-depth interviews, and administrative data from credit and asset reports.

At MAF, we use many technologies designed to work in harmony, ensuring a smooth research process and reliable data generation. However, the crux of our work is serving our clients. As Christoper noted,

“Data strategies require tech strategies to be intentional about not only what we’re hoping to learn but also how we engage communities.”

Trust is a vital element in our data collection process. Christopher emphasized that our research “moves at the speed of trust” and that our technology makes trust-building possible at scale. This trust has allowed us to collect vast amounts of data.

The team then dove into examples of the technologies MAF is using to collect and protect client data in the program. We covered how tools for client support ticketing, customer relationship management, email and SMS, and translation management were part of the overall system to ensure clients felt seen and supported throughout the process.

Using a support ticket platform to coordinate interactions among team members ensured that we maintained data quality. As context, the average participant in IFRP needed two instances of support, and our client experience team resolved a total of 4,616 tickets during enrollment. The system to respond to and resolve clients’ issues and ensure their data was correct formed the basis of trust as we began the research process.

As MAF’s Advocacy and Engagement Director Joanna Cortez Hernadez pointed out,

“Trust is a mutual process, and we build trust by actively listening to clients and responding to their questions about IFRP or other MAF programs. These interactions foster a sense of respect among our clients and provide valuable research insights. They help us understand clients’ daily challenges and how they navigate the digital world.”

The team also dove into the email and SMS messaging systems and how consistent engagement has helped increase response times and rates throughout the program. When clients first started interacting with MAF, they didn’t yet have a trusted relationship with us. Over the course of our program, we launched 147 IFRP-specific messaging campaigns, keeping our clients informed and engaged. Open and response rates increased as we developed our relationship through consistent and responsive communication. This led to excellent responses to short-form and longer annual surveys, with completion rates from 66-70%.

Joanna Cortez Hernandez, our Advocacy and Engagement Director, further expanded on how we use technology to foster trust. We use a translation management tool to ensure high-quality Spanish versions of our application for our predominantly Spanish-speaking client base. Using this tool allowed a combination of machine-generated and custom translation, which helped us streamline the process to better support clients.

Joanna also discussed how we embed trusted fintech tools into our application process. One tool we use allows clients who opt to set up direct deposit to also consent to release further data about their assets. This data provides a unique opportunity to understand the finances of the largely unbanked and underbanked community we serve.

Following the presentation, our CEO Jose Quiñonez led a fishbowl conversation with Christopher, Joanna, and Mariel Hernandez, MAF’s Communication and Engagement Manager. The team shared insights and anecdotes about how technology has made it possible to build trust and embed quality research into our programs. Mariel pointed out that organizations like MAF, with years of building trust in their communities, are uniquely positioned to provide research insights based on relationships and on-the-ground experience. José concluded by emphasizing the importance of integrating research into program delivery so we can continue to gather insights and further the conversation about financial equity for immigrant families.

Watch the recording here, and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to hear about our upcoming events.

Context is Everything

In our increasingly data-driven world, we often turn to numbers and data to understand complex issues, including the well-being of immigrant families. However, what data can’t always capture is the intricate context of people’s lives. This fall, MAF hosted the third webinar of our IFRP research series to dive deeper into the context of immigrant families’ lives, and what it means for nonprofits to show up and serve with intentionality.

“The only real difference between numbers and data is context.”

Christopher Dokko, Evaluation Manager at MAF, laid the foundation for the event by highlighting the significance of context in understanding immigrant families’ lives. Numbers can nudge us in the direction of learning about people’s experiences, but it’s not enough to get the full picture. Christopher pointed out that data collection should extend beyond what is traditionally considered to be an indicator of financial wellness. It should encompass various variables, including social conditions, identity, geography, policy landscape, and access to opportunities.

Taking it a level deeper, it’s important to understand that context and crises, like inflation or environmental disasters, don’t impact everyone equally, leading to uneven consequences. Christopher noted, “When we’re thinking about data within the context of the broader world, we’re not just thinking about what’s happening, but how it’s differentially impacting different people’s lives.” This holistic mindset allows us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of immigrant families’ lives, and how we can better meet their needs accordingly.

Graphic showing trends shaping financial security, including shifting modes of production, work and the value of money, and access to formal structures

How nonprofits show up in times of crisis

Given the ever-changing context of immigrant families’ lives, nonprofits serving those communities have a duty to listen intentionally to what families are experiencing and respond accordingly to meet their needs with dignity and respect. We were honored to be joined by three incredible nonprofit leaders doing this work across the US. In conversation with MAF’s advocacy and engagement director Joanna Cortez Hernandez, they shared their own learnings and experiences with us about how they show up for immigrant communities, and how they make it sustainable for their staff in the long run.

I think one of the most valuable things that we can offer the community is our commitment to listen, to be nimble, and to continue to create things that are actually meeting the expectations, the opportunity, the potential, and the needs.

Karla Bachmann, VP of Financial Wellness at Branches

For us, it’s really about focusing on an asset-based perspective. We know that there are lots of challenges; it’s easy to start off with all the things that, in our (Immigrants Rising) case, undocumented people cannot do. But it’s important to switch it up and say, what are the opportunities that do exist out there? Then, really focusing on those opportunities and meeting people where they’re at.

Iliana Perez, Ph.D, Executive Director at Immigrants Rising

One of the biggest things I’ve taken away is the space that we’re in. We have a kitchen, and we try to cook meals, como familia as much as we can… It gets us all in the same room to share stories, because those are the most powerful things that keep us moving and keep us doing what we do every day.

Lizette Carretero, Director of Financial Wellness at The Resurrection Project

In times of uncertainty, the context may shift, but our dedication to understanding, supporting, and celebrating immigrant families’ lives remains unwavering. We invite you to watch the recording of our most recent webinar and stay tuned for more insights as we continue this learning journey.

Welcoming 4 New Partners to the Lending Circles Network

Across the country, MAF’s Lending Circles program partners with nonprofits to provide access to zero-interest social loans and financial education that helps low-income and immigrant communities build credit, save money, and achieve their financial goals. We’re thrilled to announce that we are welcoming four incredible nonprofit organizations to the Lending Circles network.

At MAF, we believe that everyone deserves access to affordable credit-building loans and financial education. We are excited to work with our new partners to bring Lending Circles to their local communities and help families build financial security nationwide.

Learn more about our newest partners below:

City Dibs
Baltimore, MD & Oakland, CA

Brioxy transforms communities by investing in the leadership of Black folks who are building possibility models towards Black sovereignty. As part of the City Dibs initiative, they train cohorts of Black leaders in cities across the country that are building innovative solutions in their neighborhoods. Lending Circles will be a complementary tool to support leaders in their fellowship program.


The Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAP OC)
Orange County, CA

CAP OC seeks to end and prevent poverty by stabilizing, sustaining and empowering people with the resources they need when they need them. They boldly address the root causes of poverty and advocate for change through systemic reforms, social justice and racial equity. CAP OC is integrating Lending Circles into their financial empowerment workshops and their Family Resource Centers.


East Oakland Collective
Oakland, CA

The East Oakland Collective supports residents of East Oakland, prioritizing Black residents, to navigate challenges and barriers to inequities through resource distribution and advocacy. EOC work towards racial and economic justice and equitable access, and their work includes homeless services and solutions, economic empowerment and community action. Lending Circles will pair with their financial literacy curriculum as core components of their economic empowerment programming.


International Institute of Metro Detroit
Detroit, MI

The International Institute is dedicated to transforming the lives of low-income immigrants, refugees, and U.S.-born residents through innovative solutions to advancing economic mobility. IIMD will integrate Lending Circles into their Center for Working Families, providing financial coaching, training, and workforce development.

If your organization is interested in bringing Lending Circles to your community, click here to learn more!

IGNITE Partner Convening: We Shine Brighter Together

Like fireflies coming together in the night sky, we shine brighter when we’re together. In that spirit, Lending Circles providers from across the country convened for the first time in nearly two years for IGNITE: Connect, Reflect, Innovate. 

We gathered around the “virtual table” to reflect on the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrate our partners who showed up for their communities, and learn from one another. With interactive workshops, guest speakers, games, and music, IGNITE was a day full of connection. We also unveiled a new offering for partners: MyMAF, a mobile app that puts a financial coach in people’s pockets. Read on for session highlights and event recordings.

Welcome & Fireside Chat

Incredible leaders Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez from La Cocina and Ahmed Mori from Catalyst Miami joined MAF CEO José Quiñonez for a fireside chat on what it means to show up, especially when times are hard. 

Since La Cocina works with entrepreneurs in the food and hospitality industry, Debbie described how 100% of La Cocina organizations experienced some version of furlough, layoff, or shutdown in 2020. Despite this, La Cocina still managed to open the nation’s first women- and women of color-led food hall during the pandemic. How? By turning outward and launching a $2 million food security program that met the needs of the community. Ahmed described how Catalyst Miami likewise adapted to meet changing realities – launching a new program geared towards microbusinesses in the summer of 2020. 

Igniting the Fire
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

After two difficult years, how can we keep our fire going and continue to show up, do more, and do better for the people we serve? Two ways: turn to community for solutions and rely on trusted partners who do the same. As Debbie shared, “There’s an expression… ‘you always have to find a way out of no way’… in the worst times, we in our community have the ability to discover and enact a solution.” 

Ahmed agreed, emphasizing the importance of working with partners who share a commitment to justice: “Hearing that folks in community want to create new systems in the cracks of the old..and in the cracks of the failed systems that oppressed them — that is ultimately what keeps me going.” Their fireside chat set the tone and energy for the day!

Sparking Innovation: Lessons Learned from Lending Circles

In Sparking Innovation, Marjan Nadir from Refugee Women’s Network, Rose Mary Rodriguez from Pathfinders, and Henry Rucker from Project for Pride in Living shared how they adapted their Lending Circles programs to meet the challenges clients were facing during the pandemic. Refugee Women’s Network even launched its first Lending Circle during COVID-19. Some of our partners’ learnings? 

Sparking Innovation
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder
  • During COVID-19, people had a greater need for building up savings. Lending Circles are a powerful tool to build a nest egg safely.
  • Local leaders and clients can help establish trust and buy-in with other community members. Henry explained how local church leaders and barbers became trusted advocates for Lending Circles in their communities.
  • Finally, participate in a Lending Circle yourself! When staff have firsthand experience, they’re better able to share the benefits to others. 

Shining a Light: Undocumented Immigrants during COVID-19

Millions of immigrant families were excluded from federal COVID-19 relief and had to dig into savings and take on debt just to survive. In Shining a Light, practitioners offered real and innovative ways we can support immigrants as they rebuild during the pandemic, drawing on insights from MAF’s national survey of immigrants excluded from federal COVID-19 relief. We can start by offering more social safety net support to immigrants, providing more assistance to people getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and partnering with key organizations to reach more immigrant communities. 

The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket

As we rely more heavily on technology to stay connected, we’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively to partners. Efrain Segundo, MAF’s Financial Education and Engagement Manager, demonstrated MyMAF’s financial education modules, actionable tools, and other exciting features to help communities take control of their finances.

The Glow Up: MyMAF in Your Pocket
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

Why MyMAF? MyMAF is a tech tool designed specifically for the people we serve. It is bilingual, accessible, and culturally relevant. 

As one Lending Circles provider shared, “I can’t say enough how much I love this app…I love how aligned it is with our coaching approach.”

If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, reach out to partners@missionassetfund.org for more information.

Fueling the Hustle: Entrepreneurism during COVID-19

Small business owners juggled a lot during the pandemic — everything from closings to reopenings, changing guidelines, and capital challenges. Through it all, entrepreneurs navigated these challenges with creativity and determination. Two entrepreneurs, Tahmeena and Reyna, shared how Lending Circles helped them build credit and grow their businesses. 

Entrepreneurism during COVID-19
Created by Sara Yukimoto-Saltman, Graphic Recorder

Tahmeena used the $1,000 she saved through Lending Circles to purchase merchandise and start an online boutique called Takho’z Choice. In just three months, her small business was turning a profit. Reyna of La Guerrera’s Kitchen reflected how her mother had taught her about tandas, so she was familiar with the Lending Circles concept. Because Lending Circles allow people with ITINs to establish credit, they are an incredible resource. Reyna also noted the importance of providing immigrant entrepreneurs with mentorship and legal services alongside financial services.

Kindling Adaptability: Connection in a Virtual World

At MAF, we talk a lot about meeting people where they are. And over the past two years, that’s meant meeting clients online. How can we continue to provide relevant and timely financial services to clients in a virtual space? Casa Familiar’s Yessenia Sanchez and The Resurrection Project’s Sandy Guzman joined financial coaches from MAF to share best practices for “waving clients” into the virtual office—and how they kept things in perspective when things got tough. 

MAF Financial Coaching Manager Liliana Hernandez shared a quote from Mother Teresa that inspired her: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This focus on serving the person in front of her helped take client-driven financial coaching to another level during the pandemic.

Music

A celebration isn’t the same without music, and we were fortunate to have not one, but two musical performances during IGNITE. DJ OME kicked off the day with a lively set that perfectly set the tone for IGNITE. One attendee shared that DJ OME’s set was a better way to start the day than coffee — and we agree! And Analia and Ruben, two MAF clients, gave an incredible mariachi performance to close out our time together. 

Keeping the Spark Alive

How will you keep the spark aflame?

At the start of IGNITE, José shared: “In our communities, there are always different crises. It requires leaders to show up and do something, and do more, and do better. And I appreciate the people who are just doing it.” It’s clear that the MAF partner network is full of leaders doing just that: showing up and doing the hard work. With their leadership, we can ignite the fire that transforms recovery into reality.


We’ll continue to learn from our partners and we can’t wait to celebrate them again during MAF’s Quinceañera — coming up this October 14th! Stay tuned for more opportunities to keep these sparks alive.

We’re thrilled to offer the MyMAF app exclusively for our partners. If you’re interested in bringing MyMAF to your community, please get in touch at partners@missionassetfund.org for more information.

Putting Heart into UpValley’s Lending Circles: Joleen’s Story

Joleen learned valuable lessons navigating the U.S. financial system from her parents and career working at banks and credit unions. Now she runs the Lending Circles program at Napa’s UpValley Family Centers to help her community do the same.

Joleen learned from her parents’ financial lessons.

Joleen fondly remembers sitting in the back seat of her father’s lowrider as her family went on a cruise. Life was a little hectic for the small family of five, but on Sundays they enjoyed quality time together at car shows.  

Joleen’s parents were young teenagers when they moved from Yuba City to Napa, California to raise their three children. Napa provided Joleen’s father with a good paying construction job while allowing the young family to be closer to familial support. Since then, Joleen has called Napa home and hopes to one day purchase a house so that her daughter can grow up there.

Joleen's family

As young parents navigating the U.S. financial system, Joleen’s parents found themselves using payday loans to pay bills since they were the only financial product available to them at the time. “My mom had so many payday loans, she would go hopping from one to pay off the other,” reflected Joleen. Joleen watched as her parents struggled to get themselves out of debt and become financially stable. “Being young and not having much money – it was a lot. Seeing that struggle and feeling like you’re never getting out of this hole.” Eventually, Joleen’s father earned his degree and secured employment which helped the family become financially stable. 

As her parents gained access to better financial products, they better managed their money. “I am so proud of my parents and where they are today,” shared Joleen. After living in apartments all of her childhood, her parents now have their own home. Through years of hard work and sacrifice, Joleen’s father now has a job in the medical field while her mother takes care of the grandkids. 

“What I took from my parents, I decided to obtain [a house] sooner. I really want that for my child. I want my own home, where she will have her own room.” 

Her parents’ growth taught Joleen how to manage her finances at an early age. Soon after graduating high school, she opened her first college credit card. She knew how to read through the credit card terms and fully understand what she was signing before she made a decision. 

Inspired by her mother’s time working as a banker, Joleen also worked at banks and credit unions.

Joleen loved helping clients get banked, although at times she felt limited by capacity and felt like she could not serve everyone due to cost. She was frustrated that even credit cards starting at 0% rates only had those rates for a short period of time, leaving clients in precarious positions when rates increased. On top of this, she struggled with the “shark-like” approach; employees were expected to push certain loan products on clients in order to meet monthly quotas. Monetary incentives served to motivate employees to meet these goals which Joleen thought translated to inauthentic sales interactions with clients. Instead of trying to provide quality service, employees were motivated to boost their own income. 

Joleen yearned for an authentic connection where she could really listen and serve people. She had not envisioned working at a nonprofit but – as she puts it – “life carried her this way.” 

Joleen and her daughter

Although Joleen always considered herself a numbers person, her real dream was to become a traveling makeup artist for a luxe makeup line. As a makeup artist, she helped clients feel good about themselves. She recalls clients feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for her service. “What I loved about artistry was the feeling – the service I could provide. The feeling of making someone feel beautiful.” 

Joleen’s dream of traveling and providing this service on the road was about to become a reality when she realized she was pregnant. She recognized that being a traveling makeup artist meant leaving her newborn daughter for 21 days out of the month. Joleen’s love for her daughter set her on a different path. 

 “It’s crazy how having a child can change what your dreams and goals are.”  

A coworker approached Joleen about a new opportunity at UpValley Family Centers, a nonprofit organization that has served Napa community members through their cross-generational programs for the past 20 years. Her coworker thought Joleen’s heart and care for clients would make her a perfect fit for UpValley. It didn’t take long for Joleen to become UpValley’s newest Economic Success Manager. 

“The fact that I am able to provide a service, free of cost, makes it so much better. I am really able to connect with people and build relationships with people.”

In contrast to her time working for banks and credit unions, Joleen now uses her financial knowledge to coach and help clients reach their financial goals. Through a partnership with MAF, Joleen helped launch the Lending Circles program at UpValley. Now she connects clients to a 0% interest credit-building loan through the program. 

Joleen says Lending Circles opens doors for clients individually, while building community. 

UpValley Family Centers, a MAF Lending Circles partner

In her first UpValley Lending Circle, clients came from different backgrounds and spoke different languages. Despite their differences, they worked together to decide the distribution order for the Lending Circle, taking into account who would benefit from going first.

One member from the circle had recently moved from Mexico. She didn’t think she could establish credit but through the program she purchased a car. It was something that she did not think was possible – and it was because of Lending Circles that she did it. 

As a participant of two Lending Circles herself, Joleen has seen the impacts of Lending Circles firsthand. “Even though I can avoid a high-interest loan now, I was able to pay off my own car, no interest. I was able to do that with what I received [from the Lending Circle]. I loved that. My circle helped me pay off my car and boost my credit. And now Lending Circles are also helping me buy a home.” 

As Joleen works towards owning her own home, she relies on her family’s support. She is saving money on rent and building up her savings by living with family. For Joleen, the Lending Circles program has a similar feeling of familial support.

“It’s that same concept of, how can we help each other – regardless if it’s blood or not – to reach what we really want in life?”  

Joleen jokes that she would have referred clients to the Lending Circles program if she had known about it during her time as a banker. “Had I known, I would’ve been like I’m not trying to make a commission. Join this program instead!” 

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.”

Lending Circles at the Brown Boi Project


Building Credit & Confidence in LGBTQ Communities of Color

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Cundinas to Lending Circles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to her shock, she qualified.

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

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

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

What the Future Holds

Financial stability has transformed Carla’s outlook on life.

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

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

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

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

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

Winners of the 2016 Super-Partner Awards


These fabulous #LCHeroes took home prizes at the Lending Circles Summit

When MAF was founded in the Mission District of San Francisco in 2007, the vision was always to grow. MAF’s leadership and supporters saw the potential of taking Lending Circles to communities across the country, to make affordable, safe loans and credit-building opportunities available to as many people as possible.

And oh, how we’ve grown! Since 2007, MAF has grown into a national network of over 50 Lending Circles providers in 17 states (and Washington, D.C.) across the country.

The Lending Circles Summit that took place in October was an opportunity to learn, to share strategies, and, of course, to celebrate. And celebrate we did. Lunchtime on the second day of the Summit was a formal affair: Elena and Mohan, Directors of Partners & Programs, gave out 12 awards to exceptional Lending Circles partners. The prizes: custom-made action figures.

Here are the winners.


The Squad Award: For outstanding commitment to PAC

Some squads are legendary, like The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Squad Award goes to the 7 outstanding members of MAF’s newly formed Partner Advisory Council (PAC) who have pooled their talents and strengths to form an unbeatable squad.

Jorge Blandón (FII), Leisa Boswell (SF LGBT Center), Madeline Cruz (The Resurrection Project), Rob Lajoie (Peninsula Family Services), Gricelda Montes (El Centro De La Raza), Judy Elling Przybilla (Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership)  & Alejandro Valenzuela Jr. (CLUES)

The Little Giant Award: For creating huge results with a small team

This partner has proven that big things can come in small packages. This award goes to a partner with a small staff that has worked together exceptionally well to create big results.

Center for Changing Lives (Chicago, IL)

The Wacky Races Award: For creating a culture of fun and humor

This is a partner that understands that the prescription for vibrant relationships is a good laugh. From movie nights to scavenger hunts, this organization remembers to keep it fun. We recognize this partner for cultivating a meaningful culture with roots in humor.

Game Theory Academy (Oakland, CA)

The Batman Award: For soaring high with a 0% default rate

One of the most known and recognized, this partner continues to “spread its wings” with Lending Circles and soar very high with a 0% default rate and over $125k in loan volume.

Fremont Family Resource Center (Fremont, CA)

The Force Awakens Award: For being a force to reckon with

This partner is newer on the scene, but has already proven itself as an adept user of The Force like Finn and Rey. They advocate for their community, ask great questions, and continue taking on new challenges in the spirit of serving their clients.

Hacienda CDC (Portland, OR)

The Thor Award: For demonstrating enduring strength

This provider has flexed its Lending Circles muscles by running three different programs: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, and Lending Circles for Deferred Action.

Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) (Los Angeles, CA)

The Wonder Woman Award: For exceptional support for women

This heroic provider works with many immigrant women who are establishing economic independence in the US for the first time.

Chinese Community Center (Houston, TX)

The Falcon Award: For elevating the conversation

The Falcon Award goes to a Lending Circles provider that really knows how to speak up and “Tweet!” This award goes to an organization who is actively sharing creative, informative (and bilingual!) content, both about their programs & about relevant news and current events.

Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) (Washington, D.C.)

The Flash Award: For remarkable implementation speed

This relatively new provider has hit the ground running so fast that if you blink, you might miss them! They formed four Lending Circles within their first five months. We’re blown away by this world record for speed and excited to see what more is in store.

Korean Youth + Community Center (Los Angeles, CA)

The Spiderman Award: For casting extensive webs of support

This “friendly, neighborhood” superhero uses all tools at their disposal – social media, press opportunities, referrals, and creative events like Lending Circles brunches – to cast extensive webs of relationships. They even describe Lending Circles outreach as “a breeze”!

The Resurrection Project (Chicago, IL)

The Yoda Award: For sharing a wealth of wisdom

This learned and wise partner was one of the first to join the Lending Circles network. Since then, they’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge. But what’s even more amazing is how generous they are with their expertise. Just like Yoda, they are a mentor and coach, and they spread their wisdom across the galaxy.

The San Francisco LGBT Community Center (San Francisco, CA)

The Iron Man Award: For leveraging technology for good

Check out this tech-savvy superhero! They’ve really figured out how to combine technology and social justice. In addition to offering Lending Circles, this organization regularly partners with FinTech startups to offer their community members new apps to meet their clients where they are and help them reach their financial goals.

Catalyst Miami (Miami, FL)

Congratulations, #LCHeroes!

LC Summit 16: Top 16 Moments


16 reasons why you can’t miss the next Lending Circles Summit

Call me biased, but here are 16 reasons why the LC Summit was not only beautiful but hands-down one of the most exciting conferences of 2016:

1. This amazingly smart team built a prototype of a “Document Drone” to make sure that forgetting your bank statement at home wouldn’t cause unnecessary delays for hardworking clients at the Go Go Gadget Arm: Build an App with Design Thinking Workshop hosted by Catapult Design.

2. You gotta love this high-flying #LCHero sneakily enlisting the help of her friend to make her cape fly! First glance at this, and I didn’t even realize there was a hand there.

3. When the Yoda Award (for “Sharing a Wealth of Wisdom”) was awarded to the SF LGBT Center. Yes! Leisa Boswell said it best at the opening night reception: “The LGBT community has always been one of chosen family. We have had to take care of each other when our given families would not. Communities take care of their own.” Speak, Leisa, Speak.

4. When we realized that Pedro Diaz from The Resurrection Project is in fact a doppelganger of Gustavo, a famous DREAMer client who used Lending Circles to apply for DACA. Even Pedro agreed. He was all like “yeah – I can totally see it.”

5. Hearing Fred Wherry speak is like food for your brain and your soul. He said “When we hear but don’t listen, we risk obstructing justice rather than advancing it.”

6. When Holly Minch from Lightbox Collaborative was literally jumping during her True Heroes: Engaging Clients in a Digital Age panel. This woman loves a good GAME Plan! There’s nothing like that kind of energy.

7. When you got to demo the Lending Circles App! Right? You might have been confused – was this a nonprofit or tech conference? Sidenote: We also got to hear Santos (his lovely mug is in the App banner) speak on the How to be a Hero of Your Own Story panel, and be upfront about how his mom made him do Lending Circles. Listen to your mother, folks.

8. When Mohan enthusiastically wore the “predatory lender shark hat” at the MAFterParty. It was weird. It was funny. But it also made for a very fun raffle experience. Here he is with Rob Lajoie from Peninsula Family Services winning the raffle to see a show at BATS Improv.

9. When the Lords of Print set up their screen printing station for t-shirts. It was seriously like watching Bumblebee transform back into a car.

10. José’s keynote address included an unexpected twist: he led the group in a brief guided meditation to launch us into the conference with open hearts and minds.

11. Oh the Pins, oh the Flair! Amazing superhero pins designed by Raul Barrera took off. Attendees won them for collecting business cards, speaking up and asking interesting questions, playing games, and completing challenges.

12. When Isabel from El Buen Comer shared tasty delights and an amazing story about food, family and love. Foodie tip: She has arguably the best Chilaquiles Verdes in all of SF.

13. Lending-Circles Fueled Chocolate Tres-Leches Cupcakes? Yes please. Missed out on this action? You can visit Elvia at La Luna Cupcakes in Crocker Galleria in SF.

14. #FutureisFemale all-woman panel Using Tech for Good at the Federal Reserve featured dynamos Mae Watson Grote, Megan McTiernan, Alexandra Bernadotte and Karina Moreno. Go, ladies!

15. When Judy from Fremont Family Resource Center responded responded to the question “Why is the lending circle program important to you?” with “It works!” Simple, yet persuasive.

16. When we saw six lightening fast tech demos in The Flash: ‘Super Speed’ Demos Showcasing Tech for Good workshop – from saving with EARN, coaching with Beyond 12, fighting payday lenders with Nerdwallet (pictured below), getting organized with Box.org, fundraising for good with Classy, and even using SMS to send a billion messages for good with Twilio.

Ready for the next one in 2018!?