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Shareholders: U.S. at Tipping Point on Gun Violence

By Sister Judy Byron, OP
Director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment

Miriam Webster defines a tipping point as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” Are we at a tipping point on the issue of guns in the United States? With each passing day, the evidence would seem to be a resounding “Yes!” 

On March 29, faith based investors released an Investor Statement on Gun Violence, endorsed by more than 140 investors representing $634 billion in assets, calling on gun manufacturers, retailers, and distributors, as well as companies with financial ties to these industries, to “review their operations, supply chains and policies and take meaningful action on this public safety concern.”

The members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and the Adrian Dominican Sisters have a long history of promoting peace through shareholder advocacy. We began in 1971 by addressing apartheid in South Africa, and continued by working with weapons’ manufacturers to use ethical criteria for sales to foreign governments and by leading an investor campaign against graphic violence in video games. 

Responding to the increasing number of incidents of gun-related violence year after year, I convened my colleagues at ICCR in 2016 to address gun manufacturers and retailers on their role in the gun violence epidemic. As shareholders in American Outdoor Brands, Sturm Ruger and Dick’s Sporting Goods, we quietly worked on letters and resolutions, and then the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School occurred on February 14. Four days later, ICCR shareholders were swept up into the activist movement that has become known as #NeverAgain. Our children are leading us to end gun violence in our country, to ensure safety in their schools, neighborhoods, homes, and churches. 

Adam Kanzer, of Domini Impact Investments, had the last word in the ICCR Press Release announcing our Investor Statement on Gun Violence, “The bravery and eloquence of the Parkland students has brought us to a tipping point on this issue. Today, we are asking investors and corporations large and small to take a hard look at their connections to gun violence and do what they can to restore peace and safety to our communities. We hope that our recommendations will serve as a blueprint for these actions.”

It is our hope that you are finding yourself asking, “What can I do as an individual to end gun violence in our country?” We leave you with a few suggestions:

  • Vote and encourage young people to vote by helping them to register. 
  • Support legislation that promotes gun safety.
  • Thank companies that support gun safety, such as Delta Airlines and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
  • Be aware of your use of violent words and images; use peaceful alternatives.

Despite Many Changes, PAB Continues Mission of Socially Responsible Investing

March 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) continues its 43-year-old mission of socially responsible investing with a new structure and staff. The changes were outlined in a recent presentation to Adrian Dominican Sisters living on the Motherhouse campus.

Much of the presentation focused on the new structure of the PAB, which was put into place after the December 2016 retirement of Lura Mack, long-time Executive Director of the PAB. Most recently, Dee Joyner, Chair of the PAB at the time, was asked to serve as director of the Congregation’s new Office of Resilient Communities. This office was established to help the Congregation live out its 2016 General Chapter Enactment to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins.” Dee, an Adrian Dominican Associate, had served as Vice President of Commerce Bank and Economic Developer of St. Louis County, Missouri. While she is no longer the Chair, her new position involves overseeing the PAB.

The PAB is now headed by Co-chairs Rosemary Martin, former Chair of the Community Investment Committee, and Kathy Woods, former Chair of the Corporate Responsibility Committee. The two committees – now working as one streamlined Board – represent the dual functions of the PAB. 

In introducing the two new Co-chairs, Dee noted the “wealth of experience” they bring to their new role on the PAB. Kathy, a former Adrian Dominican Sister, was one of the founding members of the PAB, with extensive experience in not-for-profit organizations, particularly hospital work and counseling. Rosemary, an Adrian Dominican Associate from North Carolina, also has been involved in the non-profit world. She founded and directed an international adopting agency, placing more than 2,000 children from other countries into loving homes in the United States. She now works for an accreditation company for service organizations.

In both corporate responsibility and community investments, the PAB collaborates with other communities of women religious. Pat Zerega, senior director of shareholder advocacies for Mercy Investments, works with the PAB in the area of corporate responsibility. The PAB also collaborates with other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in working with corporations to help them to be more socially responsible in their actions and policies. 

Since the retirement of Lura Mack, who did much of the work with community investments, the PAB sought the help of an organization that could help in that area. Members of the PAB unanimously chose the Religious Communities Investment Fund (RCIF), founded and directed by Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP.

Kris Cooper, Office Manager, has served the PAB on the staff since 2013. Other members of the PAB are Sister Patricia Leonard, OP, Associate Director of St. Ann Place, a homeless hygiene center in West Palm Beach, Florida; Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, school psychologist in Joliet, Illinois; Lloyd Van Bylevelt, an Adrian Dominican Associate who serves at the Peace Education Foundation in Miami; Marcy Brown, Vice President in Commercial Treasury Management at First Federal Bank in Adrian; and Margaret Weber, who works for the Basilian Fathers in Toronto in the area of socially responsible investment. Sister Elise García, OP, is the General Council liaison to the PAB. Pat Zerega and Adrian Dominican Sisters Judy Byron, OP, and Corinne Florek, OP, serve as consultants.


Religious Communities Investment Fund

A Passion for the Peripheries
Co-creating an Economy for All
Investing in the Environment
Prophetic Witness
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.


First Nations Oweesta Corporation

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

 

Image of people sitting around tables and also standing and writing on newsprint easels

Oweesta hosts a training session in Denver for its 'Building Native Communities' curriculum

 


LiftFund and Hannah's Gluten-Free Bakery

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.



Leviticus Fund: An Alternative Fund for Community Development

“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:

  • 3,483 units of affordable housing, including transitional and emergency shelters
  • 43 early childcare centers and charter public schools serving 4,610 students
  • 40 community facilities offering social services
  • 11 community-based health care facilities

For more information, visit www.leviticusfund.org.

 

 


The Solar and Energy Loan Fund: Helping Homes, Communities and the Environment

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.

 

 


Dawn Farm Offers Continuum of Care for Recovering Addicts

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.

View at Dawn FarmThe 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.

 


The Disability Opportunities Fund Gives New Life and Purpose to Historic Farm

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.


Shareholders Urged to Vote Proxies to Influence Corporate Decisions

April 7, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Shareholders in public corporations have a unique privilege, opportunity, and responsibility: to use their proxy ballots to shape the values and decisions of those corporations.

That was the message of Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, Executive Director of the Religious Communities Investment Fund, in a live-streamed April 3 talk, “How One Checkmark Can Influence Corporate Policy.” Her address was given in the auditorium of Weber Retreat and Conference Center on the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

She noted the strong economic influence that corporations carry: of the 150 largest economic entities, she said, 87 are corporations. Some 91 million U.S. adults own some stock, she noted, adding that most throw away or recycle their proxy votes rather than voicing their values. 

“If you own shares, you have a voice – and I’m here today to ask you to use your influence to improve corporate decision-making and creating change in the issues you care about,” Sister Corinne said. “After all, investments are your money and should be working for you.”

Sister Corinne encouraged individual shareholders to consider the values they support and the industries they would like to avoid supporting, and to ask their financial advisers to craft a portfolio that reflects these choices. Then, as individual investors, they have the right to guide the corporation’s decisions through their proxy vote.

“Proxy is just another name for a ballot that contains resolutions that are up for a vote,” Sister Corrine explained, adding that proxies also include a slate of candidates running to serve on the corporation’s Board of Directors. Resolutions can deal with issues such as environmental impacts and disclosure of the corporation’s lobbying expenses and treatment of workers. 

If shareholder resolutions receive support of 3 percent of the proxy voters, the corporation will remain in dialogue about those issues. “The proxy voting is the incentive for the corporation to stay in the dialogue,” Sister Corinne explained. When shareholders don’t vote at all, their votes are considered to be in favor of the view of the corporation’s management rather than of shareholders who are trying to make changes, she added. 

Using proxy voting to help bring more justice into the economy is not a new practice. Sister Corinne noted that the Adrian Dominican Sisters have been involved in economic justice through corporate responsibility for more than 40 years through the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). The Congregation is also working with hundreds of other faith-based organizations, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), to ensure that the corporate world reflects values of justice, care for the environment, and concern for workers and low-income people. 

Panelists included Sisters Thérèse Haggerty, OP; Joan Marconi, OP; and Frances Lombaer, OP.

A panel of Adrian Dominican Sisters spoke on their own experience of voting proxies for the Congregation. Sisters Frances Lombaer, OP, Joan Marconi, OP, and Thérèse Haggerty, OP, encouraged listeners to vote their proxies, noting that the process becomes easier with practice. “We do proxy voting because we want to support the choices that the Congregation makes through the PAB, our Portfolio Advisory Board, Sister Thérèse said. “These choices are in line with our vision statements.”

Sister Corinne concluded her talk by giving investors some ideas on how they can both diversify their portfolio and make a difference in the world.

  • Invest in high impact community development organizations that work with low-income people and communities. “This isn’t high-risk investing,” Sister Corinne said. “This is investing for high impact, which means that it’s in low-wealth, low-income, low-asset communities, to help them, to empower them” to find security, livelihoods, jobs, housing and access to credit. She added that, over 40 years of investing, the Congregation has only lost less than 1 percent of its investment. 

  • Invest in credit unions. Sister Corinne suggested taking at least some funds or assets – such as CDs or your savings account – and placing them in credit unions. “Nobody’s making a profit off these financial institutions,” she explained. “All the profits go back to making loans to the members.” Credit unions serve populations such as low-income borrowers, people of color, women, distressed areas, and rural areas – areas that big banks don’t always serve, she said. 

“Please join us in this effort to create more justice in our economy,” Sister Corinne concluded.

To watch her presentation, click here.


PAB Newsletters

Insights, the Portfolio Advisory Board’s electronic newsletter (published quarterly), features stories about the socially responsible activities of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, including community investments and shareholder resolutions.

OCTOBER 2017
Shareholders End Silence on Gun Violence

JULY 2017
Renaissance Marks 10 Years of Serving Families and Businesses

APRIL 2017
PAB among Faith-Based Investors Speaking Out for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

JANUARY 2017
LiftFund: Empowering Diverse Entrepreneurs, Businesses

Recent Posts

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Portfolio Advisory Board,  Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
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