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Emergency Relief Fund Recipients Share Stories of Hope
businesses who received relief funds

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.

Bjjxyoga Studio clients

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. 

Photo of staff behind counter of A. Romo's Cafe
A. Romo's Cafe, Hayward, California
Photo courtesy of business.

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.  

Recipients of an affordable mortgage loan by OppFund
Photo courtesy of Opportunity Resource Fund

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.

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