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Tag: Staff Stories

FinTech pros and consumer advocates


Meet MAF’s four passionate new members of the Board of Directors: Alex, Cara, Lissa, and Sagar

MAF is thrilled to welcome four new members to our Board of Directors! They bring rich experience in law, financial tech, consumer advocacy, and business. Read on to learn more about these inspiring leaders and what motivates the work they do.

Meet Alexandra

Before joining her current law firm as a Financial Services Partner and lead of the FinTech team, Alexandra worked as Senior Counsel in the CFPB’s Office of Law and Policy.

Alexandra learned about the power of informal lending practices at an early age while growing up in Monterrey, Mexico.

Her grandmother, a landlord, used to organize tandas to help tenants afford rent and other expenses.

Alexandra remembers witnessing firsthand how the capital from tandas helped people cover medical bills, car repairs, and other unexpected expenses. She’s eager to bring her legal training, experience in consumer protection, and deep personal connection to fair lending to her role with MAF.

Meet Cara

As a corporate attorney for Dropbox, Cara brings valuable experience in the legal, finance, and tech spheres to her role as a Board Member. Before Dropbox, she held the role of Vice President & Counsel at BlackRock, where she specialized in alternative investment vehicles and provided advice on legal, regulatory, and general corporate matters.

Cara has an inspiring track record of leveraging her skills and expertise in the interest of justice.

Since becoming an attorney, she has provided pro bono immigration legal services to many of the same communities that are part of MAF’s Lending Circles network.

When asked what drew her to MAF, she shared, “What I see in MAF excites me deeply: an organization that has already found a sustainable, elegant, and effective way to foster financial inclusion of communities most in need.”

Meet Lissa

With 12 rich years of experience as a management consultant at McKinsey, Lissa is passionate about all things teams: cultivating and retaining talent, adapting to change, and building a purposeful culture. As Co-leader of McKinsey’s OrgSolutions, which provides clients with innovative design technology and advanced analytics to help them make the best decisions for their organizations.

Lissa shares that she’s long been dedicated to tackling income and asset inequality at its roots.

Over the past year, she’s found herself growing ever more passionate about defending the idea of an inclusive America.

She sees great potential in MAF’s Lending Circles model, which she describes as “both powerful and powerfully simple.”

Meet Sagar

A seasoned tech and finance professional with a passion for social justice, Sagar currently directs Strategy and Operations at Salesforce. In addition to his tech savvy, he brings valuable experience as a former member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters leadership board in Chicago.

His passion for financial inclusion stems from his family’s immigration story.

When his parents came to the U.S. from India, they had little savings and no credit history, and they struggled to make ends meet.

It was the generous help of family friends that helped them get on their feet and begin to build a future for themselves. Sagar knows that a strong social network can make or break someone’s ability to thrive, and he sees his role with MAF as an opportunity to build that network for others.

We’re delighted to welcome Alexandra, Cara, Lissa, and Sagar to MAF’s board!

We’re grateful to them for lending their skills and talents to help us take our work to the next level. ¡Adelante!

With ❤️, From: Mom, Charu, Mama, 엄마, Hajurmuma


From a thriving chocobanana business to a spicy pinch of kimchi that literally means “I love you.”

At MAF, we’re always looking for an excuse to share stories. In celebration of Mama’s Day 2017, a few MAF staff members and Lending Circles clients told us about their moms, grandmas, and chosen mothers—and just what makes them so special.

She’s an inspiring example of resilience for me.

Charu, aka “mom” (Chicago, IL)

Well, aside from the fact that she’s simply the most radiant woman I know, she’s hilarious—especially when she’s feeling #nofilter. She has the best commentary when we’re watching Bollywood movies together.

I also admire her creativity and her drive to keep learning and trying new things. In addition to being my mother, she sells her handmade jewelry at trunk shows and craft fairs around Chicago, and she teaches, performs, and delights her family with her Indian classical music singing!

$$ LESSONS: She taught me the importance of financial independence. As a result, I’ve made an effort to spend wisely, save consistently, and manage my debts responsibly.

– SAMHITA, Partner Success Manager

I lost my mother 10 years ago, and Reyna stepped up to the plate.

Reyna, aka “mama” (San Francisco, CA)

Reyna is my best friend’s mother, but I felt a very motherly love from her from the moment I met her. She is hilarious, hardworking, and she has a drive at the age of 52 that can barely keep up with! She told me, “no matter what you need, I am here.” She has done that—and more.

$$ LESSONS: Never give up. Reyna struggled as an immigrant coming to this country 25 years ago. I went through similar immigration battles, but thanks to her guidance early on and her unconditional love and support, I was able to persevere. She even told me about a traditional lending circle (long before I discovered MAF!) she had been part of, and she encouraged me to join. That helped me save money for all the costs that came along with my immigration process.

– SHWETA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s the most selfless person I know.

Irene, aka “mom” or “Reeny” (Long Island, NY)

She is a deeply and naturally generous person. I always joke that she never sits down at dinner because she is making sure everyone else has what they need. She’s taught me to find the humor and a silver lining when things don’t go as planned. This was especially relevant while we were planning my wedding!

$$ LESSONS: Her own mother passed away when she was 19, so my mom had to learn by necessity how to save for the future, spend wisely, and stretch a dollar. She instilled in me from an early age the value of being intentional about spending. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little extra for something if you anticipate keeping it for a long time. Don’t be tempted by things that are inexpensive in the short term—that’s often a waste of money.

ALYSSA, Partner Success Manager

She’s always been hardworking and trustworthy. Now she has the credit score to prove it.

Celia (San Francisco, CA)

Oh, my mother is so special! She is my inspiration, my role model. She is joyful and courageous. No matter what life obstacles she faces, she is fearless with a smile on her face.

$$ LESSONS: She’s a natural leader, and people flock to her for advice. People would come to her with their money problems. She created many lending circles in her community to help people pool resources and build savings. Although my mother has always been a dedicated saver, she didn’t have the opportunity to establish a credit history. I was thrilled to introduce her to MAF. After participating in a few of MAF’s Lending Circles, she’s built a beautiful credit score for herself!

PATRICIA, Lending Circles Client, Member Advisory Council

She’s a fighter.

Ana, aka “mami” (San Francisco, CA)

My mom? She raised three girls on her own. She overcame enormous obstacles to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

$$ LESSONS: When I was about ten years old, before we moved to the U.S. from El Salvador, my mom helped my sister and me get a little business going that we ran out of our house. We offered two distinct services: photocopying (we’d invested in a printer) and chocolate-covered bananas (official name: chocobananas). We didn’t even have to advertise—people just knew to come to us for their printing and chocobanana needs. And we learned some very valuable lessons from this entrepreneurial venture, most importantly: 1) work hard; 2) try not to eat all the chocobananas in your inventory. Those lessons continue to guide me to this day.

KARLA, Client Success Manager

She was one of the first women from her home state of Orissa, India, to attend medical school.

Sarat, aka “Mama” (Odisha, India)

There’s so much I admire about my grandmother: her ambition, intellect, passion, and humor, just to name a few. And she’s given me so many gifts throughout my life. My grandmother has been my yogi. It’s thanks to her that I developed my own yoga practice and have even taught yoga a different points in my life. Another gift that I cherish: her stories. Her letters, previously handwritten and in more recent years delivered by email, are simply the best.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother taught me the importance of savings and frugality. She would know. It was her rupee-pinching and homemaking that ensured opportunities for her children and grandchildren. She instilled in me an appreciation of the importance of being able to stand financially on my own two feet.

MOHAN, Director of Programs and Engagement

My 엄마 / umma is my #1 bae.

Young Ki, aka 엄마 (Queens, NY)

She’s her own type of “tiger mom.” She never pressured my brother and me to get straight A’s but instead to find and pursue our passions. She’s a fierce dreamer who came to NYC with no idea what was going to happen to her. I’ve definitely inherited that idealism and rebellious spirit. I also inherited her love for food. Growing up, we weren’t always able to communicate in Korean or English too well. I learned that a pungent bite of kimchi could literally mean “I love you.”

$$ LESSONS: My mom taught me the importance of taking risks. She never saw money as an end goal but always as a means to something more. She was the one who pushed my dad in owning our grocery business, purchasing our first home, and investing in my brother’s and my college educations. Her financial philosophy guides and inspires me.

JAY, People, Fun & Culture Coordinator

She exudes joy, warmth, and love.

Nilsa, aka “mama” (Mission District, SF)

My mom is the most powerful woman I know. I look up to her, and everything I do is to make her proud. I feel very fortunate and honored that she is the woman that raised me into who I am today. She’s given me so many gifts over the years: excellent hugs, wise and compassionate advice, and a love for music and salsa dancing.

$$ LESSONS: My mom has taught me so many important financial lessons that have saved me money and heartache, and I’ve been sure to pass them down to my own children. And those lessons have been about more than just money. They’re about life: save consistently and manage your money wisely, no matter how much you have or earn. Focus on paying your bills and rent on time; worry about the wants later.

DORIS, Client Success Manager

She is one of my “five stars,” the five most influential women in my life.

Sulochana, aka hajurmuma (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Hajurmuma is the official term for grandmother in Nepali – hajur means “with respect” and muma means “mom.” And my grandmother is worthy of every ounce of respect. I so deeply admire her strength, grace, and beauty. She’s taught me so many important lessons that have made me the person I am today. Her best piece of advice? That no matter what happens in life, you must always remember to dance. It keeps your spirit alive.

$$ LESSONS: My grandmother’s life is an example of the lessons she’s taught me: the importance of working hard, getting a good education, and achieving financial independence. As a young widow, my grandmother managed to successfully run a business in her community in Nepal. In those days, it was unheard of for a woman to do that. I am so inspired by her bravery and independence! She also bought me my first piggy bank and taught me my first lesson in finances: “save, save, save.” That’s a lesson I have practiced to this day, and finance has become my life’s work.

SUSHMINA, Accounting Specialist

No one can make spare ribs and asparagus like she does…

Chau Phung, aka “mom” (San Francisco, CA)

There are many things I love about my mom… But one of the first things that comes to mind is her cooking! She is a very talented cook and baker. And she has shared those skills and her passion with me!

$$ LESSONS: Well, considering I’m the Financial Services Associate at MAF, you can probably guess that finance is pretty important to me. And that’s all thanks to my mother. From the time I was very young, my mom always made a point to teach me important financial skills so I would be independent and prepared for the future. She taught me how to make a budget, stick to it, and save for a rainy day. She’s a dedicated saver—no matter what challenges came up, she always had savings to count on. She’s diligent about living within her means and not overspending. I’m grateful to have learned those skills from her.

JENNIFER, Financial Services Associate

My mother is superwoman incarnate.

Sonia, aka “mami” (Key Biscayne, Florida)

Take for example: her daily routine when we were kids. She would get us all fed and out the door, go to work managing senior home care services, squeeze in a quick 30-mile bike ride, and finish the day off cooking a delicious dinner while singing along to her iPod. Her energy and upbeat attitude radiate from her. Through the ups and downs of life, she keeps us all in good spirits.

$$ LESSONS: Starting when I was little kid, my mom would “encourage” (um, force) me to put my birthday money straight into savings. She even gave me a credit card on my 18th birthday to teach me about credit and how to build it slowly! It was painful back then, but I’m forever grateful for those lessons.

CARLOS, Partner Success Manager

Thank you, Mom.

With love,

The MAFistas

An Important Question for Every Relationship: “What’s Your Credit Score?”


From finding your next great relationship to paying for a special night out, having good credit is important.

This blog was originally published on CFED’s “Inclusive Economy” blog as part of the Assets & Opportunity National Week of Action.

We all love the excitement of getting a notification that someone is interested in you after looking at your dating profile. You quickly check theirs, see where they live, what interests they have, what their pictures say about them.

But what if you could see their credit score, too?

So many relationships are fraught with money troubles, so it’s understandable to want to know whether your potential partner is sound financially. Dating sites are good at determining compatibility based on self-reported measures, but using a seemingly objective indicator like credit score seems like it would help make better matches–and potentially help love birds avoid some serious financial problems down the road.

What about folks who don’t have any credit history at all?

There are an estimated 26 million people in the United States who are “credit invisible”, meaning there is not enough information in the borrower’s profile to generate a credit report or a credit score. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites or Asian Americans to be credit invisible or to have unscored credit records. Millions more have “subprime” credit, meaning that they have less-than-ideal credit profiles or scores.

There was a woman who dropped by one Friday afternoon at Mission Asset Fund (MAF), the nonprofit where I work. She asked if she would be able to get money so that she could take her son out to dinner that night for his birthday. Unfortunately, MAF’s social loan program does not provide the immediacy of funds that she needed.

So where does someone like her go?

If she does not have credit and is unable to borrow from friends and family, her only option may be to go to a payday lender that can offer her money that same day as an advance on her regular earnings with an employer. Even though payday lenders are known to charge exorbitant interest rates and fees, the trade-off may seem worth it to her in order to have a celebratory meal with her family.

I saw so many people make this same decision at the payday loan shop that my mom managed in Indiana. The challenge was that, once someone took out a payday loan, it became very difficult for them to get rid of it.

What seemed like a short-term loan ballooned into a long-term commitment.

While in high school, I came back from California to visit my mom every six months, and I would see the same customers every year, again and again. They would even get my mom gifts for Christmas. The payday lender soon became the lender of choice and at times the only lender, a place where customers felt listened to and understood, but which did little to break them out of a credit-and-debt cycle so that they could truly build assets.

Many state laws protect consumers against predatory lenders, but borrowers can still access these loans online if they are not available in their neighborhood. New York has warned online lenders about its interest rates caps and rules against title lending, while other states like California have seen operations move out of state to tribal reservations in order to thwart regulations and continue business. Laws are not enough to protect consumers from accessing bad loans, as people will always need access to capital.

One of the barriers to strong consumer protection is the way our country goes about credit.

It is not intuitive that a person may be dinged on their credit report for failing to pay an electricity or cable bill, while at the same time being unable to benefit from making regular on-time payments for such services–even though these often require a credit check or a sizable deposit. Increasingly, credit has become so important that it can impact where you work and even where you live.

From finding your next great relationship to paying for a special night out, having good credit is important. My immigrant father who came to the United States from India repeatedly told me to avoid credit cards as a young adult so I would avoid the same mistakes he made. He added me as an authorized user to his AMEX charge card so I could build a credit history early on without taking on debt.

I encourage you to start similar conversations with your family members and friends about credit too.

You may even want to connect with one of the organizations in the A&O Network to help you realize larger financial goals. You, your relationship and your credit profile deserve to be powerful.

Time to Reflect & Refresh: Announcing My Sabbatical


Jose Quiñonez, CEO of MAF, announces a three-month sabbatical, sponsored by O2 Initiatives.

I’m taking a sabbatical!

Thanks to a generous grant from O2 Initiatives, I start a three-month sabbatical on December 21st. Since 2007, I’ve had the privilege of building MAF from a neighborhood nonprofit into an organization with a national network of 53 nonprofit partners, providing Lending Circles across 18 states. After overcoming many challenges and achieving much success through the years, I feel that now is the time to take a step back and reflect on all we’ve accomplished — and to envision what’s next for MAF as we continue to uplift credit-building as a force for good, forge new partnerships, and expand to new communities.

I am ever grateful to O2 Initiatives for providing me with the gift of time to reflect and refresh.

Over the next three months, I look forward to traveling and spending time with my family, reconnecting with old friends, and reading hardcover books. I have a stack of books on my nightstand just waiting to be picked up. I can’t wait thumb through their pages.

During my absence, MAF’s Chief Operating Officer Daniela Salas will take the helm as Acting CEO.

Daniela has been a critical force behind MAF’s success since our founding, and I have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead the organization as it embarks on an ambitious plan for 2016. We will continue to move our research agenda forward by studying the impact of Lending Circles on consumers’ financial well-being; we will break new ground in developing technology for our clients to have awesome experiences with Lending Circles; and we will go the extra mile to ensure that our partners have the right tools and training to successfully implement Lending Circles in their communities.

I look forward to returning to my role as CEO in April 2016.

With renewed energy, we’ll continue to build on what’s good and forge ahead in our fight against poverty. Onwards!

Introducing Chris, MAF’s Product Manager


Chris is on a mission to put data and technology in the service of social change.

As you may have noticed over the years, we’ve had great luck with Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE) fellows from New Sector Alliance. Today, we’re continuing that streak:

We’re excited to bring on Chris Ferrer, a former RISE fellow who’s now serving as MAF’s Product Manager.

Chris recently completed his fellowship at the Center for Care Innovations (CCI), where he created dashboards and complex reports in Salesforce to help identify key performance indicators and translate those findings into their first-ever annual report. Now, Chris is bringing those analytical skills to MAF.

He has quickly become our resident Salesforce guru.

In his work at CCI, Chris loved finding ways to leverage data to impact social change. He was naturally drawn to this role at MAF, which gives him the opportunity to apply
his expertise and improve our Salesforce platform — as well as the new challenge of developing a mobile app to better serve our clients.

Chris was particularly impressed by the “multifaceted approach that MAF takes through direct service,” which allows us to help low-income individuals build credit. He also appreciates MAF’s efforts to critically evaluate our services and measure their success, always searching for new opportunities to improve them.

“I think that this is an ideal and effective model to holistically effect change.”

Chris grew up in Maui before attending Claremont McKenna College, where he majored in Philosophy and Literature. One of the highlights of his college years was studying abroad in Paris. Despite growing up in Maui, he admits to being a terrible surfer — but“could give you some tips on falling.”

Chris is a huge soccer fan and loves watching the British club Chelsea. He enjoys listening to new music and likes to cook new foods. When I asked him if he wanted to share any other fun facts, he said “I love cheese!”

Meet Kelsea, Our New Development Manager


Kelsea comes to MAF with a passion for breaking down barriers to mainstream financial services.

No stranger to new places, Kelsea McDonough has lived all over the world: from Santiago, Chile, and Granada, Spain, to San Francisco and Oakland, which she’s now proud to call home. But she originally hailed from Boston, where she graduated from Tufts University with degrees in Spanish and Psychology.

During her formative years in Boston,

Kelsea volunteered at an immigrant advocacy nonprofit and worked at a rape crisis center. She then had the opportunity to spend a year in Granada, Spain, teaching English to preschoolers. Upon her return, she made her way to the Bay Area. She worked for several years in fund development at Prospera (formerly WAGES: Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security), an Oakland nonprofit that empowers low-income Latinas to build workerowned cooperatives. During that time, Kelsea also volunteered as a domestic violence counselor at WOMAN Inc. in San Francisco.

She first learned about MAF in 2013.

A colleague came to Kelsea raving about her great experience building credit through Lending Circles, and Kelsea was immediately inspired to join a Lending Circle with a group of co-workers. She still remembers the day they formed their circle, which they named “Celery Sticks with Buffalo Sauce” — the snack they were enjoying at the time.

Kelsea strongly believes that we must break down barriers to the financial mainstream for low-income communities in the U.S., and she’s admired MAF’s innovative Lending Circles strategy for many years. From the moment she walked into MAF’s colorful, high-energy office, she was impressed by how the team lives its values on a daily basis.

“Now that I’m here, every day I’m inspired by the whole team’s drive to push the envelope on creating meaningful financial products for low-income consumers.”

What does Kelsea find so inspiring about MAF? “Everything!” she says, “but I’m especially fascinated by how MAF uplifts informal community practices of lending and borrowing money and formalizes them so people can enter the financial mainstream.” Having seen a similar strengths-based approach in action at Prospera, she believes that this is the most effective way to achieve social change. Kelsea also admires MAF’s ability to seamlessly navigate so many fields, from community development and asset building to financial inclusion and FinTech.

Today, Kelsea manages the growth of MAF’s individual donor program and supports our overall marketing and development efforts. With the growing cultural consciousness about the need for more economic mobility — especially in the Bay Area where income inequality is skyrocketing — the time is ripe to mobilize support for MAF’s programs. Philanthropy brings people together to create a world where everyone can thrive.

Kelsea is excited to help MAF realize its bold plan to scale Lending Circles across the country.

In her free time, Kelsea enjoys exploring the Bay Area by bike, practicing kundalini yoga, and taking leisurely strolls around Lake Merritt. She has an unabashed love of cheesy pop music and makes playlists (both cheesy and non-cheesy) for any and all occasions.

Welcome Elena to the Partner Success Team


Elena’s passion for empowering communities and budding entrepreneurs makes MAF a natural fit.

Elena Fairley is a brand new MAFista, but her connection to MAF began three years ago. She first heard about MAF during a presentation at the California Co-op Conference. She was passionate about supporting local community members and entrepreneurs, so the idea of social lending clicked with her immediately.

Soon after, she organized a group of her friends into a Lending Circle.

Even now, Elena’s memory of her Lending Circle experience is vivid and warm: she remembers sharing stories, food, and laughter, and supporting one another achieve their goals. Her circle dubbed themselves “Holy Monkeys, We’ve Got Credit!” — a name that turned out to be true, given the big increases in their credit scores.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Needless to say, Elena has been a fan of MAF ever since.

Before settling in Oakland, Elena was born and raised in Portland, OR, and graduated from Colorado College with a degree in International Political Economy. As you might
guess from the list of places she’s called home, she’s an outdoor adventure fanatic. When she’s not at work, you can find her outside, splitting her time between rock climbing, surfing, hiking, and biking.

This connection to MAF was no accident.

Elena has been a long-time believer in the power of communities to come together to support one another. Before coming to MAF, Elena was the Learning & Partnerships Director at Prospera (formerly WAGES). This Oakland nonprofit provides training and assistance to Latina entrepreneurs so they can build co-ops — local businesses that are owned collectively by the workers.

At Prospera, Elena had the unique experience of seeing groups of determined, entrepreneurial women come together, pool their skills and resources, start businesses, and achieve economic prosperity. Much like Lending Circles, co-ops are all about leveraging the strengths of communities.

So why MAF?

The second she saw this opportunity, Elena felt a connection. It was an exciting role, a chance to work at the organization she’d admired for so long — a prospect she new she had to explore. Elena is thrilled to have been hired as MAF’s newest Partner Success Manager. She looks forward to forming close relationships with many of MAF’s diverse partners, from Game Theory Academy in Oakland to The Resurrection Project in Chicago.

Behind the Credit Curtains in Houston


A trip to Texas to talk about credit invisibles and how Lending Circles can help

Until recently, my time spent in Texas was limited to a single quick stop over after a study abroad program in Santiago, Chile. I barely had any time to take in the beautiful landscapes seemingly painted on the DFW windows before I was back up in the air again. That’s why I was thrilled to be asked to take some time to head to Houston with our CEO, Jose, to headline an event about Lending Circles for a large group of community-based organizations. I didn’t know what to expect.

My eyes were wide with anticipation as Jose told me about what I would be doing.

I was eager with anticipation to speak to a larger, new audience about the credit building benefits that Lending Circles.

Sure, I talk on the phone to partner organizations throughout the nation every week, and I often lead webinars for partners, but to present in a non-virtual way felt foreign (although refreshing). Everyday is a new adventure at MAF, but there’s always a comfortable structure to that adventure. I typically know which of my coworkers I will need to talk to and what questions to ask them. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with so many valuable organizations face-to-face.

With a few butterflies in my stomach and an open mind as I left my hotel, I hopped in an Uber and made my way to the United Way of Greater Houston’s office. JP Morgan Chase, Experian and The United Way were coming together to help us host an event so we could talk to nonprofits in Houston about joining our nationwide network of Lending Circles providers.

My Uber driver, James, told me about the amazing diversity of the Houston community as he drove me through the city. He talked about all the new cultures that were growing together and the new little enclaves and neighborhoods that were popping up – it sounded wonderful. He said that this renaissance had accelerated recently due to an impressive population growth in recent years. I loved the thought of being in a city that was growing together at such an amazing pace.

But I knew the stakes, too. The Houston Metro Area has a very high number of unbanked and underbanked families (39%). That’s more than 1/3 of families in the Houston area that are underbanked and credit invisible.

On top of that, 43.9% of Houston families are considered to be “liquid asset impoverished” (that means they don’t have access to adequate credit are one emergency expense away from long term financial disaster). It only made my purpose of speaking about the power that Lending Circles can provide even more critical. By the time all attendees were seated with coffee and breakfast, over 70 representatives from Texas nonprofits were in the room! We were energized by the tremendous turn-out.

The presentation started with the United Way of Greater Houston welcoming all of the attendees, followed by short introductions from Carol Urton of Experian and Yvette Ruiz of JP Morgan Chase. Jose then dove, fearlessly, into speaking about who MAF as an organization and how it formalized the concept of individuals coming together to financially support one another.

Following Jose’s lead, I walked up to the podium and took my place, beginning with the respective responsibilities for the participant and the partner to get clients enrolled and Lending Circles created. It was key to emphasize to this group of potential providers how the transition to a more robust social loan platform has made the expansion of 40+ Lending Circles partnerships possible in states like Texas, a platform that is designed around the capacity and user experiences of both partners and clients.

I was humbled by the engagement of the crowd.

It was clear that almost everyone knew each other from the way each person greeted one another like old friends do. Although everyone at the event was a new acquaintance for me, two staff members from a Lending Circle partner attended: the Houston-based Chinese Community Center. This partner is one of five current providers offering Lending Circles in Texas: Family Pathfinders, YWCA Fort Worth, and El Paso Collaborative, a new partner signed in April 2015.

The only question that remains: which one of the 70 Houston organizations will I get to work with next?

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.

Dejando pasar oportunidades: mi vida antes de la ciudadanía


Mi camino de Soñadora a Ciudadana, y el ahora aprovechar todas las oportunidades gracias a Lending Circles para Ciudadanía

Las personas generalmente celebran su primer aniversario con papel, pero a mí me gusta hacer las cosas a mi manera. Yo celebré mi 14 aniversario de vivir en los Estados Unidos con papel: con la forma N-400. Esta forma es una promesa que mi madre hizo volviéndose realidad. Es una oportunidad para que yo obtenga mi ciudadanía en Los Estados Unidos. Con mucha alegría y emoción, con un pequeño paquete que incluía la forma N-400, mis fotos tamaño pasaporte y un cheque, comencé mi proceso para convertirme en ciudadana de los Estados Unidos el primero de abril. Este simple paquete de papeles significaba el mundo para mí. Fue mi esfuerzo, el esfuerzo de mi madre, el esfuerzo de mis hermanas y la promesa de un futuro mejor.

Mi historia de inmigración se trata tanto de mi madre como se trata de mí.

Mi madre sacrificó muchas cosas para traernos aquí y se enfrentó muchos obstáculos para criarnos en un lugar que, en aquel entonces, era extraño para ella. Mi madre dejó El Salvador escapando de un matrimonio violento, dejando a sus hijas y su vida como enfermera atrás en su último esfuerzo para sobrevivir. Dejó a su familia, a su trabajo y a la vida que conocía para que pudiéramos tener algo mejor; más de lo que ella podía darnos.

Yo dejé El Salvador dos años después de mi madre cuando tenía 11 años, con la promesa de que mis hermanas y yo nos reuniríamos con ella e iríamos a Disneyland (la mayoría de los niños inmigrantes que conozco vienen con esa promesa, aunque no hemos podido realizar ese viaje… aún).

¡En vez de Disneyland y estrellas de cine vine a vivir en el pintoresco Oakland, CA, que también está genial!

Aunque nuestro primer apartamento era pequeño y apretado, estaba lleno de amor y risas. Años después me mudé a San Francisco en donde pude echar raíces. Pero esas raíces no pudieron introducirse tan profundo en el suelo como lo había deseado.

Fue en mi adolescencia cuando realmente me di cuenta de lo que significaba ser indocumentada. En la preparatoria, dejé pasar muchas oportunidades debido a mi estatus migratorio. No pude ir con un grupo de chicas que visitaron Washington D.C. porque yo era una mucha responsabilidad para la escuela. Tampoco pude aplicar para pasantías para incrementar mi experiencia debido a que no tenía in número de Seguro Social.

Y entonces tuve que dejar ir una oportunidad única en la vida.

Estaba llena de curiosidad y deseaba explorar mi nuevo hogar, pero ser indocumentada me limitaba a explorar solamente California. En aquel entonces, nadie aparte de mis mejores amigas sabían que era indocumentada. Era la única en mi clase en esa situación y estaba temerosa de explicar la razón *verdadera* por la que dejaba pasar tantas grandes oportunidades.

Entonces tuve que dejar pasar la oportunidad de ir a la Universidad de California Los Ángeles debido a que costaba mucho y no podía calificar para un préstamo estudiantil. En 2006, cuando trataba de decidirme por una universidad, había pocos recursos para estudiantes indocumentados. Teníamos el AB540 que nos permitía pagar en matrícula estatal pero no pude calificar para Cal Grants o ayuda financiera federal como mis amigas ciudadanas. Así que terminé yendo a la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco y pudo terminar la universidad gracias a becas como la Chicana Latina Foundation Scholarship que no pedía un número de seguro social para poder calificar.

Tomó más de dos años de superar obstáculos de inmigración para ser residentes de los Estados Unidos, algo que no digo a la ligera.

Para poder convertirte en ciudadano de Estados Unidos, debes esperar cinco años después de ser residente para poder aplicar. Hace un año, anticipando nuestro quinto aniversario de ser residentes de los Estados Unidos, invité a mi madre y hermana a unirse a Lending Circle para Ciudadanía. Descubrí este programa durante mi pasantía en el Cesar Chavez Institute de la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco. Estaba trabajando como asistente estudiantil recolectando encuestas para una evaluación académica sobre prácticas financieras de individuos en el distrito de la Misión.

Mientras trabajaba para la escuela, escuché sobre los diferentes programas que ofrece MAF; uno de ellos siendo Lending Circles para Ciudadanía. Nos inscribimos para que el dinero que necesitábamos para la solicitud de ciudadanía no nos detuviera. Para nosotras tres, costaría más de $2,000 sólo por aplicar.  Con el aumento de los costos de vida en San Francisco, se ha vuelto más difícil para mi madre el estar al día con la renta y al mismo tiempo apoyar la carrera universitaria de mi hermana. El programa nos ha ayudado a ahorrar dinero cada mes para esta importante aplicación. Sabíamos que nuestro dinero estaría seguro con el programa de Lending Circle y que lo tendríamos disponible una vez que estuviéramos listas para aplicar.

En el programa Lending Circle, cada una hicimos pagos mensuales de $68 por diez meses para poder cubrir los $680 del costo de la solicitud de ciudadanía.

El ser residente ha sido una gran bendición. He logrado conseguir un trabajo que me encanta y he viajado a lugar con los que solamente había soñado. Lending Circles me gustó tanto que supe que quería ser parte de MAF. Fue emocionante el unirme al personal de MAF en el verano de 2014 como Coordinador de Programas. Mi trabajo me permite ayudar a individuos con historias parecidas a la mía. Veo en ellos los desafíos y oportunidades de mi propia experiencia como indocumentada en Estados Unidos y quiero estar ahí para ayudarles en su camino. Ahora que estoy en el proceso de convertirme en ciudadana, estoy especialmente emocionada de poder expresar mi voto en las elecciones presidenciales de 2016; ¡aquí voy!

Envié mi aplicación de ciudadanía el primero de abril de este año y estoy esperando continuar con el proceso de entrevista y juramento. Sigo animando a mi madre a hacer lo mismo manteniéndola al día con las ferias de ciudadanía al rededor de la ciudad, preparándola para las preguntas de la entrevista y ayudándola en maneras chicas pero constantes (como instalando una aplicación móvil de ciudadanía en su teléfono para que estudie). Mi meta es que ella aplique al final de este mes.

Quiero hacer tanto como pueda para ayudar a mi madre en su camino a la ciudadanía; así como ella ha hecho mucho por apoyar a mi hermanas y a mí.

Para mí, inmigración significa oportunidad. Significa supervivencia. Significa dejar atrás la violencia y el dolor de un hogar roto para crear nuevas memorias y experiencias en un lugar al que puedes llamar tu país. La vida en los Estados Unidos me ha dado muchas oportunidades pero también ha significado una buena cantidad de lucha.

Desde mis primeras memorias de vivir en un apartamento apretado con mis hermanas y madre, escondiéndonos en las sombras por 9 años debido a nuestro estado migratorio y hasta caminar hacia mi entrevista final para la ciudadanía. A la vista de todo eso celebro, me animo y sonrío.

Esta celebración no es sólo por mí. Esta celebración es para todos los que han batallado y luchado al enfrentarse a los obstáculos, a las bofetadas, a los sobrenombres, en su camino para encontrar paz y una mejor vida para sus familias. Estas victorias y luchas me han acercado más a mi madre, a mis hermanas y a encontrar una vida mejor para mí como ciudadana de los Estados Unidos. Ahora, mientras doy el paso final, reflexiono en el largo y dificultoso camino, en el papel con el que celebré mi aniversario, y en mi inminente ciudadanía.

Si conoces a alguien que pudiera utilizar Lending Circles para Ciudadanía, anímalo a que se inscriba hoy en LendingCircles.org.