By Robert Rudy
There was a time in the early 1990s, Alison Yonas recounts, that a rapid increase in the size of the Latino community in North Carolina was creating a serious crime problem for new immigrants. “Some newcomers were coming from places where people did not use financial institutions or feel comfortable doing so,” she said. “They were easy targets for robbery and home invasions.”
In 2000, as a grassroots response to crime against Latino immigrants, the Latino Community Credit Union was established to provide a safe place for the Latino immigrants to save money and become more comfortable with financial situations. Through the years, the credit union has received loans from both the Religious Communities Investment Fund (RCIF), directed by Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters, through the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB).
The low-interest loans have helped the Latino Credit Union in its services to the local community. “When people come from countries where financial systems have failed or their experiences aren’t as strong, and you come to this country with issues of language and cultural concerns about entering a bank, it’s hard to feel comfortable,” said Alison, Vice Present of Development and Strategic Investments for the credit union.
Based in Durham, the Latino Credit Union now has 75,000 members in 12 branches throughout North Carolina. Alison said the credit union provides bilingual and bicultural services which do not require a credit history and are geared to be accessible to members – from starter accounts to checking accounts, IRAs to affordable mortgage loans.
RCIF has been involved with the Latino Credit Union since lending the organization $150,000 in 2010, Alison said. She explained that the relationship of RCIF and the credit union is an easy one because of the alignment of their missions and because “people with RCIF are leaders in socially responsible investing.”
The Latino Credit Union provides banking solutions and education through workshops on such topics as budgeting, saving, and credit. “The workshops are one of the most inspiring parts of the work that we do,” Alison said. “We have a graduation ceremony at the end of the workshops. For some of our members, it’s their first experience graduating.”
The credit union has also helped more than 2,300 “dreamers” – those who immigrated to the United States as children with their parents without formal papers – with a loan for the $465 application fee for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Latino Credit Union has provided more of these loans than any other country, Alison said.
Feature photo: The Latino Credit Union, organized into 12 branches in North Carolina, offers financial services to those who might not otherwise have access to those services. Photo Courtesy of Latino Credit Union
July 23, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – The second in a series of educational forums on resilient communities is being offered by Adrian Dominican Sisters from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 22, 2018, at Weber Retreat and Conference Center. Titled “Resiliency in our Midst,” the program includes presentations by Adrian Dominican Sisters Judy Byron, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Janet Stankowski, OP, on their experiences in serving in resilient communities.
The program is free and open to the public, but space is limited. Early registration is recommended by calling 517-266-4000 or visiting http://bit.ly/RCweber.
About 26 years ago, Sister Judy and women religious from four other congregations in the Seattle area responded to the growing problem of homelessness by building partnerships among religious, developers, and residents to create affordable housing and wrap-around services. By reaching out to neighbors and working with others, Mercy Northwest Housing became a national model for comprehensive community development.
In 1960, Sister Judy entered the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of Edmonds (Washington), which merged with the Adrian Dominican Congregation in 2003. She was elected to serve on the Edmonds Dominicans’ General Council and later as Prioress. She was one of the founders of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, where she serves as Program Director. She is also the Director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment.
Sister Maurine and the late Renee Richie, OP, began to minister with displaced and impoverished people in a remote, rural area of the Dominican Republic in 1990. They met with the women of El Cruce de Arroyo Hondo to identify needs and dreams: a medicine dispensary and a K-12 school, Escuela Espíritu Santo Fe y Alegria, which has become the heart of the community. Sister Maurine left the Dominican Republic in 2011 and has since ministered in Kenya for three years and for another three years among the Carrier Nation in northern British Columbia, Canada. An Adrian Dominican Sister for 59 years, Sister Maurine taught in the Chicago area for most of her first 30 years in religious life.
Sister Janet’s commitment to saving the planet brought her together with Patty Gillis, an Adrian Dominican Associate, to co-found Voices for Earth Justice. Based in Detroit, this interfaith nonprofit organization helps diverse faith communities engage in environmental awareness and action. Sister Janet’s work with Voices for Earth Justice led to the renovation of a house in Brightmoor, one of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods. Hope House is a gathering place to connect with nature and with people from diverse backgrounds, contributing to the revitalization of the neighborhood. An Adrian Dominican Sister for 45 years, Sister Janet also has ministered as a teacher, university chaplain, parish administrator, residence hall director, and not-for-profit board member.
Weber Center is on the campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse, 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive, Adrian. Enter the Eastern-most driveway of the complex and follow the signs to Weber Center. For information, call the Weber Center at 517-266-4000.
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A Passion for the Peripheries
Co-creating an Economy for All
Investing in the Environment
Uniting Faith and Capital
Cultivating a Legacy
Making a Difference Bit by Little Bit
Ministry through Collaboration
These are the titles of the Religious Communities Investment Fund’s (RCIF) annual reports for the past eight years.
During those years, RCIF has grown from a $3 million fund begun by 11 congregations of women religious to a $10 million fund sponsored by 28 congregations. These congregations believe that they are called to use their financial resources as a ministry to help overcome social and environmental inequities. RCIF’s portfolio includes loans to intermediaries such as loan funds, credit unions, and international microfinance institutions, as well as direct loans to nonprofits.
RCIF’s mission is to promote economic justice through investments in low-income communities worldwide. The fund seeks to promote an economy of solidarity and to reflect the Gospel values of economic justice, compassion, human dignity, and environmental stewardship. As Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, the founding Executive Director, has said, “We promised the congregations that this fund would be as effective, efficient, and prophetic as when each congregation operated their own fund.”
RCIF enables smaller congregations that never had their own community investment program to participate in this ministry. “The investment is an extension of our charism into an arena where we would not otherwise be visible – a spiritual parallel to the hidden life of the Holy Family in Nazareth,” said Sister Gladys Guenther, of the Sisters of the Holy Family, at the fifth anniversary celebration of RCIF.
RCIF is “another way to turn the coin on our diminishing resources so that they are working to transform underserved areas,” said Sister Cathy Minhoto, of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. “Through partnerships we never had 50 years ago, we are able to continue our mission and we can see the impact our investment makes globally.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters joined RCIF in 2017. The advantage of membership is that it allows for larger and riskier loans. Some of the more intriguing loans made possible by RCIF were to organizations such as Los Angeles House of Ruth, a domestic violence prevention program; the YWCA of Watsonville, California, which offers a program to empower Latina girls; a student cooperative in Bloomington, Indiana, for their residence; and Friendship Bridge, which provides microfinance and health clinics to indigenous women in Guatemala.
A unique feature of RCIF is its development of prayer cards for the congregations. Each year, RCIF chooses five organizations and gives prayer cards to the Sisters in the member congregations, describing the organization and asking them to pray for the staff and clients. “When I do a site visit and I talk to the staff about who the Sisters are and that we come with not just money but also our prayers, I see many eyes well up with tears,” Sister Corinne said. “Our prayers are deeply appreciated because this work is hard and it takes strength and courage from staff, as well as their clients.”
RCIF is delighted that the Adrian Dominicans have become a member to continue this ministry of economic justice.
Left: This Guatemalan weaver is one of the clients of Friendship Bridge. Right: Girls practice yoga as part of their empowerment program at the YWCA in Watsonville, California.
December, 2017 – First Nations Oweesta Corporation was created 18 years ago to address the lack of capital and financial infrastructure needed for economic development in Native communities recognized by its parent organization, First Nations Development Institute. Oweesta’s mission is to provide opportunities for Native people to develop financial assets and create wealth by assisting in the establishment of strong, permanent institutions and programs contributing to economic independence and strengthening sovereignty for all Native communities.
Oweesta is the only existing intermediary to Native Community Development Financial Institutions (NCDFIs), offering financial products and development services exclusively to Native CDFIs and Native communities. Specifically, Oweesta provides training, technical assistance, investments, research, and policy advocacy to help Native communities develop an integrated range of asset-building products and services, including financial education and financial products.
Oweesta’s education program assists in developing programs such as financial education, matched savings programs, and credit counseling. Its Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families curriculum offers a culturally appropriate training program to help Native organizations establish and sustain financial education programs from certified instructors with deep experience in Native communities.
In addition, Oweesta assists certified and emerging Native CDFIs with individualized training, technical assistance, and systematic, multi-faceted program delivery. Their goal is to help create and sustain healthy and thriving Native CDFI operations.
Oweesta seeks to create appropriate loan products that enable reinvestment of capital back into Native communities. As a lending intermediary, Oweesta is also supported by debt and equity investments, which enhances its capitalization base to better serve Native communities across the nation.
As a leader in the Native CDFI industry, Oweesta strives to inform potential investors, federal agencies, and the general public on the current industry climate. Employees research and distribute several publications each year and analyze best practices within established Native CDFIs.
Oweesta serves as a voice for Native communities to help inform policy that supports Native community development and encourages Native communities to join in advocacy work.
For more information, visit www.oweesta.org
Oweesta hosts a training session in Denver for its 'Building Native Communities' curriculum
November 16, 2017 — "If you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day, but if you teach them to fish, you feed them for a lifetime." LiftFund helps entrepreneurs buy the pond where they fish. They help small business owners create and own assets to break the cycle of poverty in the United States through entrepreneurship.
Since 1994, this non-profit small business lender has provided capital to underbanked and underserved entrepreneurs. LiftFund has provided over 18,000 business loans totaling over $220 million to diverse entrepreneurs across 13 states.
LiftFund’s vision is that entrepreneurs, regardless of their backgrounds, should have access to capital. That vision is supported by several partners, including the Adrian Dominican Sisters, who have invested in LiftFund for many years through their Portfolio Advisory Board.
These investments have lifted Larissa Wilson, owner of Hannah’s Gluten-Free Bakery, to new opportunities. “For my family, baking is the language of love,” Larissa said. She and her daughter, Hannah, were devastated when they were diagnosed with celiac disease. Determined to continue baking, Larissa began creating her own flours, and Hannah suggested opening a bakery to bring gluten-free sweets to their community.
Larissa was unable to secure a loan from her bank for her growing bakery, so they referred her to LiftFund, where she received a $5,000 business loan to expand her business.
To learn more about LiftFund, and to help people just like Larissa, visit www.liftfund.com.
“Your land must not be sold on a permanent basis
because you do not own it;
it belongs to God,
and you are like foreigners,
who are allowed to make use of it.” (Lev. 25:23)
October 13, 2017 — At its core, community development works to align capital with projects that improve the physical and economic health of low-income residents in the communities where they live and work.
Leviticus’ mission is rooted in this same vision of economic justice, and is inspired by the biblical passage of Leviticus (above), from which they derive their name. Thirty-four years ago, an initial investment of $360,000 from their founders--religious communities active in direct-service ministries in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut--has grown to over $23.9 million in invested capital, of which 43 percent is money from organizations and individuals who are guided by their faith-based values.
Mission-focused lending is key in supporting innovative solutions to the crisis-level shortage of affordable housing and supportive housing that many communities face.
With over $75.7 million in cumulative lending, Leviticus’ highly flexible, fixed-rate, low-fee financing helps local nonprofits increase both scale and impact. This financing also supports their ability to leverage over $600 million in public and private capital from other sources.
Guided by program values and priorities, Leviticus focuses on using capital to serve the most economically vulnerable and to enhance education, health care, and healthy food access that promotes sustainable communities for the future.
Leviticus’ borrowers and investors are proud that they have helped generate:
For more information, visit www.leviticusfund.org.
September 11, 2017, Fort Pierce, Florida – Patricia Henderson of Fort Pierce, Florida, needed her roof replaced due to major leaks that developed after hurricane Matthew. Patricia could not obtain the funding she needed at an affordable rate, so she went to the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) to finance this necessary repair.
SELF is a nonprofit, Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certified statewide in Florida by the U.S. Treasury Department. Its mission is to help rebuild and empower underserved communities by providing access to affordable financing for sustainable home improvement projects that support energy-efficiency, renewable energy, wind-hazard mitigation, and water conservation. SELF is one of the many loan funds supported by the Portfolio Advisory Board of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
LEFT: A manager for Gary Marzo Roofing stands with Patricia Henderson as her home gets a new roof. RIGHT: Lesha Westberry (in the purple shirt, second from left in the middle row) has 16 adopted children that she and her husband care for. Lesha and her husband were in need of a new air conditioner as the one their old unit was barely cooling their home. With the help of SELF, the family was able to finance a new unit that could efficiently cool the home.
SELF’s lending programs focus on homeowners in low- and moderate-income census tracts, with special programs for veterans, women, and people with disabilities. SELF provides access to favorable financing to underbanked communities, people with poor credit, and individuals classified as “ALICE” — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Additionally, SELF is an approved field partner with KIVA.org, which provides clients with access to microloans through KIVA’s worldwide crowdfunding platform. This innovative program is specifically intended to promote clean energy and green jobs and to alleviate poverty.
SELF’s lending standards are less stringent than traditional banks and offer below-market-rate financing options. This enables clients to complete needed home improvement projects, reduce average household energy consumption by 23 percent; lower operating costs (i.e., energy and insurance bills); enhance comfort and livability; improve air quality and health benefits; bolster wind resilience; safeguard the most significant family asset, the home; and increase equity and market value. In the process, SELF fosters the clean-energy economy and creates green jobs for local contractors.
To date, SELF has financed more than $5 million in micro-loans, with each loan typically around $10,000. This has enabled 626 Florida families to complete sustainable home improvement projects, with 70 percent of the lending activity in low- or moderate-income communities and 40 percent for women.
To learn more about SELF, view the video below or visit them at cleanenergyloanprogram.org.
August 29, 2017, Ypsilanti, Michigan – Dawn Farm, which receives low-interest loans through the Portfolio Advisory Board, was founded in 1973 by three recovering addicts as a functional community for addiction recovery in a farm environment. Based upon group interdependence and cooperation, hard physical work, and rigorous honesty, Dawn Farm continues to care for alcoholics and other addicts.
With a mission to help addicts and alcoholics find recovery, the values that guide programming include the beliefs that any addict or alcoholic can get better, abstinence matters, community recovery works, long-term support is necessary, and work is important.
Originally a single, long-term residential facility, the “Farm” has expanded into a large continuum-of-care agency providing an array of services. Residential facilities include Dawn Farm, with 36 beds; Dawn Farm Downtown in Ann Arbor, with 13 beds; and Spera Recovery Center, an 18-bed, sub-acute detoxification and community support unit. Dawn Farm also offers a transitional housing and supportive care management for pregnant addicts and women with children. In addition, Chapin Street Project offers a 180-bed, transitional housing program for homeless addicts.
The residential programs are augmented by Dawn Farm Outpatient Services in Ann Arbor; a program for teens; Washtenaw Jail Outreach, which provides treatment for more than 200 incarcerated addicts each year; and employment services for recovering addicts, in collaboration with the local business community.
Through these programs, in 2016 Dawn Farm served a total of 7,688 individuals. For more information on Dawn Farm, visit www.dawnfarm.org.
June 23, 2017, Rockville Centre, N.Y. – People with disabilities and their families often struggle to gain access to safe, affordable housing and related services such as job training. The Disability Opportunities Fund (DOF) provides technical and financial services to individuals and organizations serving the disability market throughout the United States. The DOF is one of the many Community Investments the Adrian Dominican Sisters make as part of its commitment to social justice.
This spring, a nonprofit farm vocational program just outside of Rochester, New York, is cultivating the seeds of inclusion thanks to the DOF.
Jenny Brongo is the sibling of a person on the autism spectrum. Because her brother responded well to being on their uncle’s farm, Jenny developed a vocational program for him and others to promote skills training, socialization, self-awareness, and career exploration for people of all abilities. This program, called Homesteads for Hope, has operated two seasonal farm vocational pilot programs and hosted community outreach events since 2014.
In August 2016, with support from a $1.2 million loan from the DOF, Homesteads for Hope purchased a 55-acre historic farm in Ogden, New York. The organic farm and its collaborative partnerships with the local community offer a unique vision that will provide jobs, organic food, educational programs, and community and living spaces for people of all abilities.
To learn more about the DOF, visit www.theDOF.org
Plans for the Homestead for Hope Farm
Community members gather to help restore the farm for Homesteads for Hope.
Feature photo at top: Charles Brongo at the new Homesteads for Hope farm.
February 13, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Many people equate Haiti with poverty – with its reputation as the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. But Leigh Carter, who has worked with Haitians for nearly 20 years, sees signs of hope in the women who have climbed out of poverty and now provide a decent life for their families.
Leigh, founder and Board Member Emeritus of Fonkoze USA – the U.S. non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for Fonkoze – gave a special presentation on the work of Fonkoze February 6 in Weber Auditorium at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse. Her presentation, “The Adrian Dominican Sisters and Two Decades of Partnering with the Women of Haiti,” followed a meeting of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB).
Founded by the Adrian Dominican Sisters more than 40 years ago, the PAB helps the Congregation to use its resources to bring about economic justice through socially responsible investing in corporations and communities. The Adrian Dominican Sisters were among the first to grant low-interest loans to Fonkoze, and have been partners with the organization since 1997.
Leigh became director of Fonkoze USA at the invitation of Father Joseph Philippe, a Haitian priest who founded Fonkoze in 1994 to address poverty in Haiti. She attributed her connection to the Adrian Dominican Sisters to Sister Maureen Fenlon, OP, who encouraged Leigh to apply for a low-interest loan from the Congregation. Fonkoze USA received $200,000 in loans from other congregations of women religious after the Adrian Dominicans approved an initial loan.
In 20 years, Leigh said, Fonkoze has become “Haiti’s largest microfinance organization,” offering loans and other banking services to individuals – mostly women – in their efforts to become self-sufficient. Fonkoze now has 45 branches throughout Haiti, with $65,000 outstanding in loans to Haitian market women, and more than 200,000 people who are saving their money through Fonkoze.
Leigh spent much of her talk describing Fonkoze’s “staircase out of poverty” program. The first step, “Chemen Lavi Miyò,” focuses on the “ultra-poor,” women who “basically haven’t managed money ever or touched money – they’re basically begging at the marketplace.” The women receive $25 loans to help them get started in a business. In addition, Leigh said, their homes are upgraded to include a cement floor, a tin roof, a latrine, and a water filter. They are also expected to send their children to school.
After two years of group training, Leigh said, the women are “arguing over who’s going to speak at the graduation in front of 400 people” – a drastic change for women who, at the beginning of the program, “can’t look you in the eye” because they feel ashamed. Not all of the women who undergo the most basic training program move up the staircase, Leigh noted, but they have still found their lives to be “amazingly improved.
Higher up the staircase, Leigh said, women are organized into groups of five or six, forming “credit centers.” Currently, she said, some 65,000 women are organized into 2,000 credit centers. The women meet twice a month – once to meet with their credit agent or to repay their loan, and the second time to receive education on anything from cholera prevention to improving their businesses.
Leigh pointed to success stories of women who began as “ultra-poor” and became successful market women. One such woman, now in the business development stage of the program, works in wholesale, which loans in the thousands of dollars. “Instead of her husband sending her money from Miami, she sends money to him,” she noted.
Fonkoze thus focuses on “meeting women wherever they are in this journey out of poverty,” Leigh said. “Some people don’t make it,” often because of challenges such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires. Nine Fonkoze branches and about 14,000 clients were affected by the recent Hurricane Matthew. Fonkoze has been monitoring all of these clients to determine who has repaid their loans, who needs to restructure their loans, and whose loans need to be written off, she said.
Photos courtesy of Fonzoke, USA
In the question and answer session, Leigh noted that Fonkoze has been able to make a difference in the lives of individual Haitians – but that Haiti, as a whole, could be in “worse shape” than when she arrived 25 years ago.
“We’re dealing with the informal sector, and for Haiti to really, really succeed, there needs to be a thriving middle class and a thriving formal sector, and people who are creating jobs,” she said. In addition, she would like to see Haiti invest more in its infrastructure, such as roads. “That helps everybody.”
In the meantime, Leigh said, Fonkoze will continue to help individual women who are striving to climb out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. “We hope to have 100,000 loan clients in the next three or four years,” Leigh said. “We’ll just keep doing what we do.”
Feature photo at top: Leigh Carter, of Fonkoze USA, gives a talk on how her organization has helped women in Haiti on their journey out of poverty. Photo by Jessica Havens.
View "Saincia's Journey Out of Poverty" on YouTube: https://youtu.be/5mAa1x3QiQQ
Portfolio Advisory Board, Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
Phone: (517) 266-3523 | Email: