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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.
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 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.
By Associate Dee Ann Joyner
Director, Portfolio Advisory Board
October 12, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – The Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) gathered via Zoom September 23-24, 2021, for its annual meeting. They welcomed new Board members, Carmen Mora and Joe Barker, who were both introduced on the PAB website last month. Elise García, OP, General Council liaison to the PAB, also attended her first meeting as a voting member following an amendment to the by-laws approved by the General Council in June.
The PAB also recommended to the General Council the appointment of Carla Mannings to an open position of the Board. The PAB recommended a change to the social impact environment policy to limit investments in any company receiving more than 3% of their revenues producing thermal coal or oil sands. The General Council approved both recommendations.
On Day 1 of the meeting, Judy Byron, OP, consultant on shareholder advocacy, facilitated a panel discussing pesticides and their impact on the environment. Margie Weber, a former PAB staff member and member of the Board, discussed the history of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ advocacy activities on pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She emphasized the long, slow process of changing corporate practices, yet the process does result in important changes.
Caroline Boden, with Mercy Investment Services, discussed the work she has been doing with the Interfaith Coalition for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) with both food and beverage manufacturers and retailers. For example, the ICCR has gotten corporations to commit publicly to reduce their use of pesticides or at least to switch to less toxic treatments. She stressed the leverage these companies have on their supply chain and discussed success in dialogue with Campbell’s Soups and General Mills in reducing pesticide use on the ingredients in their products.
Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Sustainability, discussed her office’s work on reducing pesticide use on the Motherhouse Campus. Her office ceased to use chemical-based pesticides that destroy the health of the soil and has transitioned to using neem oil to enhance fruit, berry, and nut tree growth. Neem oil only affects harmful insects, not pollinators.
In conclusion, the panel agreed on the need for a multifaceted approach to advocate consistently and continuously with companies to ensure their policies and practices reduce the use of harmful pesticides and to practice reducing our own personal use whenever and wherever possible.
Sister Judy and Pat Zerega, board consultant on shareholder advocacy from Mercy Investment Services, updated the Board on 2020-21 advocacy activities. On behalf of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, they engaged 43 companies on 65 engagement topics. The Adrian Dominican Sisters filed 17 shareholder resolutions and participated in 55 sign-on letters covering diverse topics. For example, a letter was sent to 21 food and beverage companies on issues of racial justice and food equity.
Pat and Sister Judy also presented the 2021-2022 advocacy plan which the PAB unanimously approved. The plan outlines strategies for PAB’s engagements with companies on issues such as the systemic inequities evident during COVID-19 and the quest for racial justice, as well as advocacy for policies that promote the rights of workers, food justice, and health equity. Investor statements and sign-on letters are often part of the advocacy process in these priority areas.
Day 2 focused on Community Investing. Corinne Florek, OP, Portfolio Manager for PAB, opened the meeting with a reflection excerpted from the social impact finance criteria developed by Richard Rohr’s Center for Contemplation and Action.
Sister Corinne provided historical background on the creation of the Religious Congregations Impact Fund (RCIF), for which she served as Founding Director until her retirement in 2020. Her successor, Sarah Geisler, provided an update on RCIF and its plans for future growth. The Adrian Dominican Sisters joined RCIF as a sponsor in 2017 and moved $1million from the PAB community investing portfolio to RCIF. RCIF and PAB often invest in the same non-profit organizations and collaborate in their approach to impact investing.
PAB then reviewed three loans presented by Sister Corinne. They approved the renewal of loans to Inclusiv, which provides capital to member credit unions serving low-income communities, and Fonkoze USA, a loan fund investing in small businesses in Haiti.
The Board also reviewed a new loan request from the Real People’s Fund, a collaboration among six non-profits serving the East Bay, California area. The purpose of the new Fund is to provide community capital funding to historically divested communities in the East Bay. The minimum loan term is seven years, which is longer that the Congregation’s policy of making loans for terms of one to five years. Because of its enthusiasm about the Real People’s Fund and its possible impact, the Board requested that the General Council amend the policy on the terms of loans so that they can consider approving a loan to the Real People’s Fund at a future meeting.
The last item on the agenda was a review of the community investing social impact criteria with a racial equity lens and discussion on possible changes. The Board postponed this discussion to the next meeting, giving them more time for an in-depth discussion of this important matter.
The next meeting of the PAB is scheduled for March 24-25, 2022.
The Portfolio Advisory Board is pleased to welcome two new members for three-year terms beginning July, 1, 2021.
Joseph Barker II was recently appointed Executive Director of the Sr. Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation. Prior to assuming this position, Joe held various teaching and administrative positions with Cristo Rey schools in Atlanta, GA and Charleston, SC. He has also worked in private industry and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in engineering from Florida A & M University.
Joe has a strong commitment to helping African-American youth succeed and volunteers his time with community organizations such as The Black Man Lab, Unbound International Outreach, and West Atlanta Charter School. He currently serves as chair of the board formation committee for Aquinas Center for Theology at Emory University. In nominating Joe for PAB, Mary Priniski, OP, commented “Joe is very energized by the work of PAB and shares a deep commitment to inclusion and racial justice. He is a dynamic leader and not afraid to state his commitments.”
Carmen Mora is Executive Director of Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat for Humanity where she has worked since 2008. She has also held pastoral ministry roles with various parishes in the Saginaw diocese. She received a Bachelor’s Degree from Barry University in 1995 and a Master’s Degree from Loyola University in New Orleans in 2000.
Carmen’s life focus is to serve those at a disadvantage and give them a hand up. Her volunteer activities are consistent with her work life. She serves as a scholarship grant reviewer for Saginaw Community Foundation; has been president of the Mustard Seed Homeless Shelter; and served as a missionary to the Dominican Republic through Amor en Acción. In nominating Carmen for PAB, Marilín Llanes, OP, stated, “Carmen is a Cuban-American woman steeped in her Latinx roots growing up in Miami, Florida. She is committed to inclusion, equity, and racial justice and wants to be able to contribute her gifts to the work of the PAB.”
As Board members welcomed these two new members to PAB, they also shared their gratitude to Leslie Watson who has completed her term. Chair of PAB Marilín Llanes, OP, expressed the sincere appreciation of the entire Board for Leslie’s commitment to the work of PAB. “We are so grateful for Leslie’s willingness to share her knowledge and experience in community investing with the Board during the past three years. Her active participation has enriched our work and we value her many contributions.”
Sister Corinne Florek, OP, has been praised as the “Godmother” of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDIFs) for her decades of ministry in the field of economic justice and community investment. She was profiled in a special Women’s History Month newsletter produced by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), founded in 1979 by executives of the Ford Foundation.
Through the years, Sister Corinne helped to shape the practice of community development, in which organizations such as the Adrian Dominican Sisters and other religious congregations invest in or make low-income loans to nonprofit organizations that serve the needs of local communities and low-income people.
Sister Corinne was one of the earliest members of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board and now serves as its consultant. She managed craft co-ops for women in Kentucky, ministered at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, managed community investments for the Sisters of Mercy, and helped to found the Religious Communities Impact Fund.
Read about Sister Corinne and her community investment ministry in the LISC newsletter.
More than 2 billion people in the world – especially women and families living in poverty in rural areas – lack access to formal financial services and therefore live with financial insecurity on a daily basis. Friendship Bridge, like many other microfinance institutions (MFIs) around the world, is committed to providing access to capital, healthcare and health education, non-formal education, and technical assistance to Guatemala women, primarily indigenous, living in poverty. Read the article below to see how the investment by the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) helps Friendship Bridge achieve its mission.
Article Courtesy of Friendship Bridge
Marcela was scared about the global pandemic. “I asked myself, ‘How are we going to survive?’ We live in Sololá [Guatemala] and we did not have a place to go and buy things,” she recalled. Even if the markets were open, Marcela thought, she would not be able to buy anything without money. “That affected me a lot,” she said.
But fear did not dampen Marcela’s resilient spirit. She had survived the armed conflict in Guatemala. She had become a business entrepreneur despite being widowed with young children. Again and again, she had outsmarted fear with resourcefulness and navigated hardship alongside a strong community of women.
Only a few weeks after learning about the pandemic, she used her hard-earned skills to gain income again. “I made scarves and shawls to survive,” she said. “Sometimes my neighbors celebrated their daughters’ birthdays in lockdown… They came to my house and asked for birthday gifts.”
As a trained artisan, Marcela was already selling her beautiful, textile-woven products to an international market through Friendship Bridge’s online store, Handmade by Friendship Bridge. In March 2020, she started investing more effort into selling to her nearby community to support her family during the earlier months of the pandemic.
Marcela belongs to a Friendship Bridge Trust Bank made up of 18 women, almost all of who became widowed during and after the armed conflict in Guatemala. “They had no way out,” she said, noting that when she herself joined 17 years ago, she only had about three pieces of fabric. “I needed capital in order to make more.”
All the women in her group have different interests, from artisanry to agriculture. Over time, they have acquired new skills through Friendship Bridge’s trainings, which have allowed them to diversify their income, an especially useful skill for this year. Marcela, for example, now knows how to use a backstrap loom, as well as a foot loom. She also learned to collect recycled plastics that some stores throw away to make durable, reusable shopping bags. “We go to collect and wash them, and when they are dry, we cut it to the size we need,” she explained.
As businesses slowly start to open and “normalize” in Guatemala, Marcela encourages women who are not yet part of Friendship Bridge to join. “They teach us about everything,” she said. “I feel that they are encouraging me again to create some products and deliver them. As they are asking me for orders, I feel that I am already getting out of this situation.”
The microloans, education, business training, and health services that Friendship Bridge provides to women in Guatemala matter now more than ever. Because of the investment of the PAB, women like Marcela continue to support themselves and their communities through innovation and hard work, even amid a pandemic.
Feature photo at top: Marcela creates a textile with capital and training from Friendship Bridge.
November 9, 2020, Berea, Kentucky – Fahe, a nonprofit organization that works to lift the people of Appalachia out of poverty, awarded the Adrian Dominican Congregation the Dwayne Yost Friend of Fahe Award at its annual meeting in recognition of the Portfolio Advisory Board’s long-standing support of the organization.
The PAB was the first to invest in Fahe 40 years ago, granting a $35,000 loan in 1981 at a time with the nonprofit worked on a budget of $16,000.
Sister Corinne Florek, OP, accepted the award virtually on behalf of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “We are so grateful that we were able to be part of the beginning and nurtured a seed that has borne incredible fruit,” she said.
Watch the award presentation.
August 20, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Cynthia Curry Crim was named Vice Chair of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). In this position, she will be working on the PAB’s executive team with Associate Dee Joyner, Director of Resilient Communities for the Congregation, and Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, Chair.
Established by the Adrian Dominican Sisters more than 40 years ago, the PAB helps the Congregation to use its resources justly, in ways that resonate with its mission. The Corporate Responsibility aspect focuses on using dialogue and shareholder resolutions to keep corporations accountable in areas such as the environment, treatment of workers, and responsibility to local communities. The Community Investment aspect offers low-interest loans to community-based enterprises that serve communities and people in need.
Now in her second year as a PAB member, Cynthia is excited to be serving on the executive team as Vice Chair. The executive team is involved in behind-the-scenes work and strategic planning – “a lot of planning to make sure that each time the PAB meets, we have a productive meeting,” she said. “We’re just trying to make sure that the Board members have the right information, to make the meetings more engaging.”
Cynthia said serving on the PAB fits right in with her work experience. From about 1993 to 1998, she worked in Chicago as director of nonprofit organizations. “All my work centered on family and children, but I also realized you have to look at housing, education, and health,” she said. She wanted to change focus, “not to leave the nonprofit community but I really wanted to see a bigger part of the work.”
Cynthia then served as Associate Executive Director of the Steans Family Foundation in Chicago. The Executive Director was “totally committed to the community and really believed in engaging community residents about the decisions that were going on,” Cynthia said. She compared this work to the Congregation’s focus on helping to form resilient communities in specific geographic areas of the country.
Cynthia and her family moved to St. Louis in 2002. After working for Nonprofit Services Consortium, an intermediary that collaborates with local nonprofit organizations, Cynthia was hired 15 years ago by Dee Joyner to work at Commerce Bank, managing part of its corporate foundation and two family foundations.
Cynthia said Dee invited her to serve on the PAB. “I had known about her work with the Adrian Dominican Sisters while she was at Commerce,” Cynthia said. “She would talk about being on the PAB, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be asked [to serve on the Board].”
Working on the PAB has enhanced her knowledge. “What I have learned is that investment in the community can be direct or indirect,” she said. She sees the corporate responsibility aspect, and particularly shareholder advocacy, as having an indirect but profound effect on the community.
“How many people in underserved communities have any idea of the impact that corporations have?” she asked. “So the work that the Sisters are doing – advocating that corporations look at what they’re doing in terms of how they’re polluting the environment – has a major impact on those who have no voice. That is a powerful tool to use.”
Cynthia sees the work of community investment as being directly involved in the local communities. “I like that during this time of COVID and Black Lives Matter, I have really seen in our last meeting this commitment to walk the talk and try as best as possible to make a difference in the communities, making sure that people who are already struggling can somehow get some relief,” she said. “To be part of this is pretty special.”
On behalf of the Congregation, Sister Elise D. García, OP, General Councilor of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, recently signed the Catholic Impact Investing Pledge.
An initiative of the Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative (CIIC), the pledge affirms that signatories will commit to making investments “on behalf of the poor and vulnerable, to promote human dignity, economic justice, and environmental stewardship,” pursuing a just society “with urgency, given the increasing needs of the poor and vulnerable and the continuing degradation of our common home.”
The pledge principles include the call to making investments “that provide financial returns while simultaneously creating measurable, positive social and environmental incomes in service of people and planet.”
Sister Elise serves as the General Council liaison to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). Since 1978, the Community Investment arm of the PAB has made more than 500 low-interest loans to a variety of community organizations. Currently, the PAB is investing in 38 organizations – throughout the United States and internationally – in banks, community credit unions, multi-purpose loan funds, housing programs, cooperatives, and international loan funds.
In signing the pledge, the Adrian Dominican Sisters joins a community of pledge supporters committed to investing for the common good. Signatories include Catholic Relief Services; Mercy Investment Services; Ascension, a faith-based healthcare organization; and other congregations of women religious, such as the Daughters of Charity, Conference of St. Louise, and the Felician Sisters of North America.
Feature photo: One of the affordable housing projects of New Way Homes, a Santa-Cruz, California-based housing organization that receives investments from the Portfolio Advisory Board.
Portfolio Advisory Board, Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
Phone: (517) 266-3523 | Email: