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By Marilín Llanes, OP, Portfolio Manager Community Impact Investments
In 2020, the idea of the Emergency Relief Loan Fund emerged during a Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) meeting rising from a deep sense of “what more can we do” during the two colossal pandemics. The looming effects and complexities of COVID-19 and the rise of racially based deaths weighed heavy in our hearts. It was an urgent call to respond to the great economic challenges facing our country and world. The moment to invest for change and restore hope was realized in the selection of four financially struggling communities in or near areas of Chicago, Seattle, Detroit, and Oakland impacted by these extraordinary events.
This engagement was well aligned with Congregation’s 2016 Enactment on Race, Violence, and Diversity, beckoning us to “pledge our lives, money and other resources to facilitate and create” opportunities with people “relegated to the margins.” A proposal was drafted and presented to the Adrian Dominican Sisters General Council. Swiftly it was approved to create a $1 million Emergency Relief Loan Fund with zero interest to be disbursed into four equal parts among the four selected Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) for three- to five-year terms.
The criteria for disbursal of funds by CDFIs was determined by PAB members was two-fold: relief to people of color who were unable to make mortgage payments and support for rebuilding small business owners in impacted communities of color.
Two years later, the four CDFIs are sharing stories of resilient people who have benefitted from the loans.
Ventures is a Seattle-based nonprofit that empowers aspiring entrepreneurs with “limited resources and unlimited potential” with 100% focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), women, immigrants, LGBTQ, and individuals with low income.
The featured story is about Once Upon a Time Early Childhood Family Daycare, a bilingual school located in Burien, Washington, that provides activities to reinforce children’s learning. It is unique in that there are not a lot of bilingual programs in the area that offer both full-time and part-time care. Owner Diana Llanes (no relation to Sister Marilín), is a certified teacher in early childhood education and for more than 11 years has taught social, emotional, and behavioral skills and promoting an environment of learning and curiosity.
Allies for Community Business (A4CB), located in East Garfield Park on the West Side of Chicago, is a nonprofit that helps neighborhood entrepreneurs. With the Emergency Relief Funds, A4CB provided small business loans to assist minority and women business owners who experienced financial hardship due to unprecedented times.
Since the inception of the loan, A4CB team has dispersed 19 loans in the neighborhoods of Bridgeport, Brighton Park, McKinley Park, and New City. According to Mary Tristis, Director of Community Lending, business owners who benefited from loan funds have been women-owners (nine), African American owners (six), Latinx owners (six), and Asian American owners (two).
A loan recipient of A4CB, Jeff Yumul and spouse Deanna Spear-Yumul followed their dreams and founded Bjjxyoga Studio in the McKinley Park neighborhood. The studio specializes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and mixed level yoga for all ages.
Bijjxyoga Studio, McKinley Park, Illinois.
Photo courtesy of business.
Like many businesses, the studio was forced to close temporarily due to the pandemic. After reopening, Jeff found that customers were apprehensive to attend in-person group classes, further delaying the studio’s return to pre-pandemic operating levels.
In early 2022, Jeff received an A4CB small business loan to help his business grow. “We used the funds to expand our location by double the square footage,” Jeff said. “More space means more customers we can inspire!” (Article courtesy of the A4CB website in celebration of Asian American /Pacific Islander heritage month, May 23, 2022).
Working Solutions CDFI was founded in Oakland, California. Since October 2020 it has made 10 loans totaling $250,000 with Adrian Dominican Sisters’ community investment capital to entrepreneurs in Almeda County (specifically in Oakland, Emeryville, San Leandro, Hayward, and Fremont), with 100% deployed to low-income individuals, 89% to women, 96% entrepreneurs of color.
A. Romo’s Café, a Latinx-owned, woman-owned coffee shop, received the first loan from Working Solutions in 2020, to support the transition to take-out orders at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, Romo’s Café is thriving and has a five-star rating on both Yelp and Facebook. As Working Solutions’ client, Laura Hernandez Romo, owner, has received free, personalized business consulting support on cash flow management from Business Consulting team.
The fourth CDFI recipient, Opportunity Resource Fund (OppFund) is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Adrian Dominican Sisters was its first investor more than 30 years ago and continues to partner in this mission-driven work.
Over the course of those two years, OppFund deployed 28 loans made in amounts ranging from $9,500 to $15,485. These affordable mortgage loans were made for a term of 60 months, and the majority, 22, were made to single female heads of household. Twenty-seven borrowers were African American, and one was a member of the Latinx community. All loan borrowers resided in Detroit. This project has been a great success and OppFund looks forward to these clients completely paying off their mortgages in the coming few years.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters Portfolio Advisory Board continues to boldly keep alive the living legacy set by our women to bravely respond in times of crisis: to show our solidarity and support in the ways we have done for more than 45 years, and to do it by investing in people’s lives, hopes, and dreams in the Spirit of the mission of Jesus.
By Kimberly Pelkofsky, Director of Design and Planning,
Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation
In 2018, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (TVCDC) began construction on 14 single-family homes – part of a larger goal of providing 21 homes for ownership at affordable prices to community members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The three- and four-bedroom homes are all energy and water efficient, highly insulated to weather temperature extremes, built to withstand 120 mile per hour sustained winds, and finished with low-to-no volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, carpets, and materials. Each home also comes with a TVCDC owned and maintained solar array to help keep energy costs low, and a structurally robust carport that can withstand the frequent and severe summer hailstorms. With all of these features, these homes are a unique housing product in the Reservation.
Initially, six investment partners, including the Adrian Dominican Sisters, were identified to fund the construction of 11 homes. Each investment partner contributed capital by way of a construction loan to a specific lot or lots.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters were introduced to TVCDC through Nick Tilsen, a featured speaker at the Congregation’s 2018 Resilient Communities Symposium at Weber Retreat and Conference Center in Adrian in March. Nick, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, was then Executive Director of the TVCDC.
Although construction began with a great deal of momentum, it was not too long before challenges surfaced. Costs were rising far beyond original estimates and at a rate faster than TVCDC could find additional funding to cover the difference. Workforce challenges with consistency and workmanship meant that progress was slow. Construction was put on pause. A dramatic shift in approach was needed.
The idea of an Intercreditor Agreement was proposed during one of our investor calls. To put it simply, rather than having six investors operating independently of each other to complete a specific home, all investors would collectively work together to complete the 11 homes. This consolidated the financial structure of the project; set a cap on loan interest rates; and extended the repayment term, which had previously varied by investor.
Sales proceeds are now first returned to TVCDC to cover ongoing construction costs and are repaid in a rolling fashion by proportion of principal investment as homes are completed and sold. This streamlined process gives TVCDC additional time to complete the project, source additional funding, and reduce reporting burdens.
Although the break in construction could have been seen as a detriment to the project, the additional time gave the organization the opportunity to continue to work with potential homeowners to ensure they were on solid footing before a purchase.
Since executing the Intercreditor Agreement, TVCDC has restarted construction and completed four homes. To date, two of these homes were sold in 2022. The first, a three-bedroom, closed in April and the second, a four-bedroom, was closed in mid-August.
The four-bedroom home – the lot that the Adrian Dominican Sisters originally contributed to – was sold at $200,000. It is now owned by a woman and is the residence of the community member, Lakȟóta spiritual leader, and TVCDC founding member who led the Inípi Ceremony that brought forth the idea to create TVCDC all those years ago.
The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment Foundation reports that faith-based and healthcare organizations represent 4% of assets at major companies, yet they file 36% of resolutions, making them a powerful voice at corporations around the world.
For decades, the Adrian Dominican Congregation, through the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), has been part of this work: filing resolutions, engaging companies, and speaking to corporate boards at their annual meetings. This work has been done in coalition with other faith-based shareholders from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), where members often pool their holdings to have a seat at the table.
This longtime work has resulted in hundreds of examples of companies changing their policies and practices after constructive engagement with shareholders. ICCR members have championed positive changes in areas such as annual director elections, supply chain risk and impact reporting, political and lobbying spending disclosure, climate risk reports, and due diligence practices for human rights risks.
In 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enacted new rules that severely restrict small shareholders in the resolution process. In the past, shareholders could pool their ownings to reach the $2,000 worth of stock that needed to be owned for one year in order to file a resolution.
The new rule bars shareholders from pooling stocks, and an individual organization must own at least $2,000 of the company’s securities for at least three years. The new rules offer no provisions for shorter ownership, such as owning at least $25,000 for at least one year to file a resolution.
The SEC also changed the minimum vote to return a resolution the following year. A first-year resolution must now get 6% vote support, up from 3%. By the third year, a resolution must receive 25% vote support – a tall order for many resolutions on social issues.
In 2021, ICCR and several other investor groups entered litigation to rescind the rule changes. The PAB offered several examples of how the changes would negatively impact their work. Unfortunately, the courts have postponed the ruling several times, now indicating a decision in late November, subjecting the current shareholder filing season to the more stringent filing rules. These limitations curtail the voice of small shareholders and place additional constraints on the PAB’s work for the 2023 season.
It’s important to note, the engagement process is more than just filing shareholder resolutions. The ongoing dialogues and long-term relationships that are a hallmark of the PAB mean that much of our work continues. Companies are aware that very often we as faith-based shareholders are like “canaries in a coal mine” or an “early warning system.” We hear the social and environmental concerns from partners and advocates on the ground and see the world with a moral lens; thus, we raise issues that may not have yet made it to the C-Suite level.
As this article is posted, the PAB is considering the 2023 shareholder season work plan, engaging to effect change toward justice in the policies and operations of corporations in which we hold investments.
Article by Pat Zerega
Portfolio Advisory Board Consultant
Mercy Investment Services
By Sister Judy Byron, OP, PAB Consultant
Just two weeks after witnessing the murder of her teacher and classmates, fourth grader Miah appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She shared how she and her classmates were celebrating the end of the school year with a movie when a gunman burst into their lives. Miah went on to describe how she smeared herself with the blood of her friends to appear dead and used her teacher’s phone to call 911 for help. We know that her call was in vain. No one came to save the children.
For five years now, faith-based shareholders led by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and CommonSpirit Health have been calling on firearm manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger to play a positive role in developing firearms and shaping legislation that would benefit their business and the health and safety of our citizens. Like Miah’s call to 911, our request has gone unanswered.
In 2018, a majority of shareholders supported our resolutions with Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, requesting a report on the company’s activities related to gun safety measures and the mitigation of harm associated with gun products. The reports were disappointing in that they failed to put forward meaningful solutions to address gun violence.
For the past four years we have been calling on Smith & Wesson to adopt a policy articulating a commitment to respect human rights, which includes a description of a due diligence process to identify, assess, prevent, and mitigate actual and potential adverse human rights impacts. In 2021, 44 percent of shareholders supported the proposal. The resolution will be presented for a vote again this year at the company’s annual meeting in September.
This year, on June 1, CommonSpirit Health led a resolution, co-filed by the Adrian Dominican Sisters, urging the Sturm Ruger board to oversee a Human Rights Impact Assessment which assesses and produces recommendations for improving the human rights impacts of its policies, practices, and products. It was supported by 69 percent of the Company’s shareholders.
“This shareholder majority in favor of the proposal invites Sturm Ruger to consider what it can do to contribute to solutions to the preventable epidemic of gun violence,” said Laura Krausa of CommonSpirit Health. “We refuse to believe there is nothing we can do to reduce gun violence. We know we can find common ground on common sense approaches that respect the right to own a gun, and also the obligation to help keep our neighbors safe and healthy in the face of this epidemic of gun violence." (source)
Although the police didn’t come when Miah called for help, in the hours and days after the tragedy at Robb Elementary School, the children, families, and community of Uvalde have been held in a circle of care. This circle includes shareholders of firearm manufacturers; faith communities; citizens who demonstrated for sensible gun reform; and the U.S. Congress, which took steps to address gun violence for the first time in 30 years. Together, we will answer our children’s cry for help, their plea to be safe in their schools and communities.
The following article was written by Iroquois Regenerative Farms, Inc., an organic farmland real estate investment trust that provides organic and regenerative farmers with land security through long-term leases and mortgages. In turn, Iroquois Regenerative Farms receives a low-interest loan from the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board. The article was submitted by Donna Holmes, Investment Relations, Iroquois Valley Farms.
We are excited to introduce one of the newest farms in our portfolio: Vollmar Family Farms, located in Tuscola County, Michigan. Mark and Dawn Vollmar farm 500 acres of diversified row crops in an “organic hotspot” of Michigan, surrounded by more than 10,000 acres of certified organic farmland within just a few miles of their properties. Their son, Jordan, farms with Mark, and he has expanded his own organic operation to an additional 500+ acres in the same area.
Mark is a fifth-generation farmer whose family has farmed in Tuscola County since the 19th century. This legacy includes challenges, along with a deep respect for the land and community. Mark is grateful to be farming with his son and to know that the legacy will continue. Mark's father was forced to sell much of their land and exit farming during the 1980s farming crisis.
Certifying organic in 1997, Mark rebuilt the operation to what it is today. The Vollmars are strongly committed to organic and regenerative farming practices. They are certified organic and are moving to regenerative organic certification (ROC). Their diversified crop rotation includes dry beans (pinto, navy, and black), grains (spelt, einkorn, rye, blue and yellow corn), and hemp.
Mark started farming as a teenager and decided to pursue organic farming 24 years ago to provide a better living for his family. He quickly realized that organic farming's positive effects on human health and the well-being of the environment are equally important.
Mark now seeks out regenerative, no-till farming techniques to further improve soil health and has learned from Rodale Institute and Rick Clark, a prominent no-till organic farmer from Indiana. The family uses no-till practices as much as possible, and they also embrace planting cover crops.
Feature photo at top: Mark and Dawn Vollmar at their 500-acre family farm in Tuscola County, Michigan.
By Pat Zarega, Senior Director of Shareholder Advocacy, Mercy Investment Services
For almost eight years, the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) of the Adrian Dominican Sisters has engaged and supported the work of the Cotton Campaign. It is known that forced labor continues in pockets, but nowhere has it been more organized than in countries where governments force citizens to participate.
The government in Uzbekistan shut down schools and public offices for months at a time to mobilize and send their country’s youth, teachers, nurses, and civil servants to harvest cotton. The government also dictated prices of seeds and fertilizers, controlled the irrigation, and purchased the crop at a fraction of market price.
More than a decade ago, fellow investors came together to advocate for the end of government-directed forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. They joined with other human rights NGOs, academics, brand associations, and independent trade unions to form the Cotton Campaign.
In 2010, the Cotton Campaign and the Responsible Sourcing Network launched the Company Pledge Against Forced Labor in the Cotton Sector of Uzbekistan. By signing it, brands and retailers publicly committed to not use Uzbek cotton produced with state-orchestrated forced labor. The PAB used its position as a shareholder to bring the issue of forced labor in the cotton industry to the table at many brands and retailers. In the end, 331 brands and retailers signed the Pledge, including large companies such as Amazon and Walmart.
Over the years, Cotton Campaign members met with the governments of Uzbekistan and the United States to call for addressing the issue. Civil society in the country continued to document the situation and work with the Uzbek-German Forum to provide well-researched reports updating progress. For the 2021 cotton harvest, the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights found no central government-imposed forced labor.
Given the progress made in protecting the workers’ rights and eradicating systemic forced labor, coalition participants traveled to the country to be alongside the Government of Uzbekistan in announcing the lifting of Uzbek Cotton Pledge. The Cotton Campaign has gathered a video history of the work as a beginning to acknowledge the companies who participated in the pledge.
The PAB is currently represented in this corporate work by Pat Zerega of Mercy Investment Services and Sister Judy Byron, OP, Consultant. At the lifting of the pledge, Pat stated, “Investors’ deep concern and respect for human rights, as detailed in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct, calls us to address the forced labor situation in the Cotton Industry. We have worked with the Cotton Campaign and supported the Cotton Pledge to address forced labor in Uzbekistan. The findings of independent civil society monitoring the 2021 cotton harvest shows that Uzbekistan has successfully eliminated state-imposed forced labor in cotton production. We are pleased to acknowledge this breakthrough while at the same time calling for continued due diligence by all companies in the Uzbek textile industry, urging them to establish and maintain strong labor standards and engage with the Cotton Campaign.”
After serving as Portfolio Manager for Community Investing for the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) for the past four years, Corinne Florek, OP (left), will bring this work to completion at the end of this fiscal year. We thank Sister Corinne for her many contributions to the work of PAB, for building long-lasting relationships with borrowers, and for sharing her expertise and commitment to social impact investing.
The General Council invited Marilín Llanes, OP (right), to succeed Sister Corinne in the role of Portfolio Manager. In informing the PAB of Sister Marilín’s selection, Elise García, OP, General Council Liaison to the PAB, stated:
“The General Council is deeply grateful to Corinne Florek, OP, for her extraordinary decades-long leadership in the field of community investing and for her current service as the PAB’s Portfolio Manager. We are delighted to inform you that Marilín Llanes, OP, has accepted our call to take on the role of Portfolio Manager effective July 1, 2022, and that Associate Dee Joyner has agreed to continue as PAB Director through FY2023.”
Sister Corinne will be working with Sister Marilín during an on-boarding period until the PAB Annual Meeting in September 2022. Sister Marilín, currently serving as the PAB Board Chair, will step down from this role following the March 2022 Board meeting. She will remain a member of the Board until July 1, 2022, when she joins the staff as Portfolio Manager. The PAB will elect new leadership at its March meeting.
By Lydia Kuykendal, Director of Shareholder Advocacy,
Mercy Investment Services, Inc.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the disparities for people of color in areas such as vaccine access and health care. Over the past two years, shareholders have expanded their corporate engagements addressing systemic racism.
This movement began as a result of the murders of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of police. Many companies have since made pledges to address systemic racism. However, more than one year after these commitments were made, the practical outcomes remain unclear.
This year, shareholders have filed a slate of resolutions calling on multiple companies to conduct third-party racial equity audits. These internal audits evaluate how a company’s policies and practices discriminate against or disparately impact communities of color.
Shareholders have called on companies to identify and recommend steps to eliminate any business activities that “further systemic racism, threaten civil rights, or present barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).” Shareholders also believe workers, customers, community members, and other stakeholders should inform the audit and the report.
Shareholders have also seen racial disparities between hourly and salaried employees in some companies, where salaried employees are predominately white and hourly employees are majority people of color. This disparity signals that people of color may not have the same opportunity for advancement to better paying, senior-level jobs.
In 2020, partners at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) filed 12 resolutions calling for racial equity audits. Resolutions were withdrawn at BlackRock, CoreCivic, Morgan Stanley and Amgen based on their commitments to conduct internal audits. The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) is looking forward to reviewing the audits as they’re completed.
This year, the PAB filed a resolution at Tyson Foods. It was recently withdrawn after the company agreed to conduct an independent third-party audit that will include stakeholder interviews and investor feedback. Shareholders filed the resolution at Tyson due to the significant impacts of COVID-19 on its workers of color.
The racial disparities often extend to company boards of directors. For 10 years, the Thirty Percent Coalition has advocated for diversity on corporate boards and company leadership that reflects the gender, racial and ethnic diversity of the United States. We believe that diverse leadership and boards lead to better experiences for employees and shareholders and improved company performance.
To combat systemic racism, corporations should recognize and remedy industry and company-specific barriers to everyone’s full inclusion in societal and economic participation. The recent Racial Equity Audit proposals, as well as ongoing dialogues that elevate awareness of business models that perpetuate systemic racism, will further the longtime work of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and other investors to create an anti-racist society.
By Eric K. Foster, RPC Co-Founder, Chair, and Managing Director
Rende Progress Capital (RPC), a racial equity loan fund and emerging Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, provides small business loans and technical assistance to excluded entrepreneurs of color. They work with African-Americans, Latinx/Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans who statistically represent the racial wealth gap and face barriers to conventional loans.
In turn, RPC is a recipient of a loan from the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). The PAB was among the first to invest in RPC.
Eric K. Foster, Chair and Managing Director, founded RPC as a result of his W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fellowship Project. He later met colleague Cuong Q. Huynh and together launched RPC in 2018. They made their first loan in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Founded and managed by professionals of color trained in racial equity, business, and law, RPC uses racial equity impact assessments in loan origination and committee review and uses its proprietary Financing Approval through Racial Equity in loan underwriting. Nearing its fourth year, RPC has grown and deployed nearly $500,000 in loans to Excluded Entrepreneurs of Color.
RPC combines racial equity and due diligence, with one loan moving to default in the third quarter of FY 2021 and annual delinquency rates well under its 0.12% to 5% threshold goal. This results in a portfolio that serves women of color, Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and African Americans within industries such as restaurants, technology, financial professional services, and communications. Seven percent are family-owned businesses, and 80 percent are first-time loan recipients.
RPC develops products for excluded entrepreneurs of color, such as the new Relief Addressing COVID and Exclusion Loan and Reduced Interest Schedule for Excellence Loan.
RPC is also intentional that its growing team reflect the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs: women of color. RPC’s new staff – portfolio manager and loan officer – are women of color.
RPC operates as an anti-racist financial institution and considers racial inequities experienced by applicants as character factors. This aligns with the vision of the Adrian Dominican Sisters to root out racist practices in our lives and systems.
RPC affirms the perseverance of applicants. Clara Guevara, owner of Maily's Dominican Salon, stated, "Rende was very personable … I still had to follow the policies and procedures, but I was able to, for the first time, have someone see me."
Dreams By Bella, owned by Isabel Lopez Slattery, specializes in photography and photo design. Even though she ran a solid company and was a good customer with her bank, Isabel could not obtain a loan. RPC had the same faith in her that she had in herself. This faith continues as RPC recently connected with the law firm Warner Norcross and Judd to help her acquire a new contract, her first major contract.
RPC invested in Reliable Medical Transport – an African American-owned non-emergency medical transportation company – guided by due diligence and the company’s focus on addressing barriers to healthcare for many people of color. Such a focus contributed to the decision to lend to Taylor’s Homecare and Grand Rapids Senior Social Exchange, RPC’s first loan to senior care sector customers.
Caption for feature photo at top: Eric K. Foster, Managing Director of Rende Progress Capital (RPC), speaks to graduates of the RPC Fifth Third Bank/CDFI Pre-Loan Readiness Incubator Program.
Sister Patricia Daly, OP, a Caldwell Dominican Sister and member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), recommended that congregations of women religious use their investment portfolios to further their charism, or spirit. During the annual conference of the Resource Center for Religious Institutes, she further suggested that communities use their investments to bring healing to Earth in the face of global climate change. Read the entire article by Dan Stockman in The National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report published November 18, 2021.
Portfolio Advisory Board, Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
Phone: (517) 266-3523 | Email: