RCIF Gathering at NCCLF’s 25th Anniversary
On May 24, 2012 The Northern California Community Loan Fund (NCCLF) celebrated its 25th Anniversary at San Francisco’s Metreon center. At the special RCIF-NCCLF pre-event, 37 sisters representing seven congregations enjoyed talks by Mary Rogier, President of NCCLF, and three other RCIF borrowers: Northeast Community Federal Credit Union, Green Cab, and Mission Neighborhood Centers (see accompanying articles).
President Mary Rogier spoke of the sisters’ pivotal role in helping the Loan Fund promote economic justice and alleviate poverty. “Not only were you there from the start,” expressed Rogier, “But your insistence on accountability and the emphasis on impact set an important standard for us and for the whole industry.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters were NCCLF’s first religious investor and second institutional investor. Sister Patricia Bruno, a San Rafael Dominican, served as one of the organization’s first staff members. Today, the religious communities and the Catholic hospital systems together invest over $5.9 million in NCCLF or 23% of the Loan Fund’s total borrowed capital. “We are grateful,” added Rogier, “not only for helping to build our capital resources, but also for making these investments with extremely generous rates and terms—exemplifying the definition of ‘patient capital.’”
RCIF Investment Highlights:
Northeast Community Federal Credit Union
Less is more at the San Francisco-based Northeast Community Federal Credit Union—no ATM machines, no ATM cards, no credit cards, no online banking, and no fees. “Our clients cannot manage mainstream bank accounts,” explains CEO and Manager Lily Lo. “They often cannot balance a checkbook and spend without budgeting.” Keeping things simple keeps customers out of debt and on track to a better future.
“We serve the underserved,” says Lo, who strives to teach the credit union’s approximately 1,700 clients how to save and build assets. Customers can easily establish a savings account with a $25 deposit that provides up to five free checks a month to pay rent, utilities, and other necessary bills. After attending a financial workshop, customers then qualify to open a formal checking account.
These basic account services, along with multiple loan products, give Northeast Community customers (served at three branch locations) a safe place to deposit and borrow money rather than rely on costly check cashing and payday loan centers abundant in low-income communities. In fact, Northeast Community’s Tenderloin branch remains the only federally regulated financial institution in the notoriously high-crime neighborhood.
“Our members are unique,” says Caruso Tam, a Tenderloin district branch service representative. “They come from all walks of life—new immigrants, the disabled, the mentally ill, veterans—those with unsettled lives.” Mr. Tam goes out of his way to help clients, many who are tenants of the neighborhood’s single room occupancy apartments, write their monthly rent checks, making sure names and room numbers are included to prevent confusion.
“Lily is a saint and goes above and beyond the call of duty to help customers,” says Linda Rochelle, a Tenderloin district property manager and resident. Rochelle shared a story of when she hastily took out a high interest CashCall.com loan (nearly $3,000 at over 120% APR) to cover a relative’s funeral expenses. She soon realized that under the four-year repayment agreement, she would end up paying more than three times the original loan amount. Rochelle turned to Northeast Community for help and Lo worked out a new low-interest loan allowing Rochelle to repay the credit union over a two-year period. “Lily listens and does her best to accommodate people’s needs.”
“This bank has always been good to me,” says a wheelchair-bound customer who came in to get a $50 withdraw after having had his wallet stolen. Even without ID, the man’s request was honored after simply giving his account and social security number. Lily Lo, in her soft-spoken and caring way, kindly reminded the long-time customer to keep his wallet in a safer place. As the man made his way out of the bank, he said to his accompanying friend, “Get an account here. It’s a good bank.”
Green Cab and Local Enterprise Assistance Fund
In early 2007, the eight cofounders of San Francisco’s Green Cab taxi company were looking for additional funding—their cooperatively run start-up with a single Toyota Prius needed to expand. An internet search lead the group to Boston-based Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF), a lending organization focused on cooperatives and resident owned communities. It was a perfect match. Five years later, Green Cab manages a 16-vehicle hybrid fleet, nine of which were purchased with LEAF capital. “LEAF was there for us,” says Joe Mirabile, a Green Cab cofounder. “They’re true to their principles of funding local, progressive organizations.”
Nearly 30 years ago, when LEAF itself was just starting out, the Adrian Dominican Sisters provided early funding. Today, RCIF continues to invest. “The sisters’ support has been critical. They make LEAF possible,” says Executive Director Gerardo Espinoza. LEAF maintains a strong track record with $55 million invested since inception in cooperative companies like Green Cab, resulting in the creation and retention of over 5,900 jobs. “There’s democratic control in cooperative organizations,” says Espinoza. “A strong psychological component exists in saying ‘Yes, I’m part of the group making decisions that affect my livelihood’ rather than getting orders from corporate headquarters.”
“It’s slow growth, but it’s growing,” Mirabile adds. The driver-owned cooperative now has 56 members with profit sharing and voting rights. Green Cab also takes its social and environmental consciousness one step further by purchasing carbon offsets from Carbonfund.org, making it a zero carbon footprint company. The funds go toward a conservation program in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest. Such ideals and values exemplify the business practices RCIF seeks to promote–those of economic justice, compassion, human dignity, and environmental stewardship.
Mission Neighborhood Centers Receives 25 Staff Scholarships from University of Phoenix
When Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc. (MNC) needed financing to reconfigure a warehouse into a licensed child development center, the University of Phoenix agreed to help in more ways than expected. Along with $250,000 toward the required $1 million for the new facility—located in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point—the university also provided 25 full scholarships to professionalize MNC staff. “We are eternally thankful to the University of Phoenix for giving us this opportunity,” says Executive Director Santiago “Sam” Ruiz.
One MNC staff member, out of the 25 employees assigned scholarships, has graduated with a Masters in Public Administration, and five more expect to complete degrees in the next six months. The first graduate currently serves as MNC’s Youth Services Director—“What a role model!” Ruiz remarks.
The relationship between MNC and the University of Phoenix makes sense. MNC recruits most staff members from its own community client base. Due to barriers and challenges facing many in the low-income areas it serves, MNC employees often lack AA and BA degrees.
Ginale Harris, employed at MNC since 1994, is a great example. Despite many personal tragedies—widowed at 23 when her two sons were toddlers, her father died from heroin, and her mother suffers from mental illness—Harris completed her AA degree at San Francisco City College in 2007 and will finish her University of Phoenix BA degree in a few months. “I never thought I was college material,” says Harris, a 3.87 GPA student. Harris’ perseverance inspires many, especially her own seven children who include two recently adopted teenage girls. Now happily remarried, Harris continues to courageously take on her many responsibilities. “I truly believe that God puts you places where you belong,” she shares.
By Liana S. Mortazavi