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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.
The Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), staff, and consultants warmly welcome their newest Board member, Sister Patricia Daly, OP, a Dominican Sister of Caldwell, New Jersey.
The PAB monitors the Adrian Dominican Congregation's investments and engages in shareholder activity on matters of justice. The PAB also makes low-interest loans to non-profit community organizations that benefit low-income people and underserved communities.
Sister Pat brings 40 years of experience to the PAB’s mission of corporate responsibility and socially responsible investing. She recently concluded her 24-year tenure as Executive Director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investing, now Investor Advocates for Social Justice.
The Tri-State Coalition was an organization of 40 Catholic dioceses and congregations of women and men religious in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, primarily in the New York Metropolitan area. During her tenure, Sister Pat was involved in advocating with corporations for human rights, labor rights, ecological concerns, equality, and international debt and capital flows. In addition, she played a role in persuading U.S. corporations to address global climate change as one of their priorities. Upon leaving her position with the Tri-State Coalition, Sister Pat was recognized for her “leadership, determination, and persistence” in the corporate responsibility ministry.
Sister Pat worked with Sisters from a coalition of U.S. women’s Dominican congregations to launch the Climate Finance Investment products that aim to implement the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. She serves on the advisory boards of Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, the climate science arm of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and Jana Partners, the first hedge fund to implement corporate engagement and socially responsible principles.
She is the recipient of the 2014 Joan Bavaria Award presented by Ceres and Trillium Asset Management and the 2017 Legacy Award presented by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. In addition, Sister Pat holds honorary doctorates from William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey and Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Sister Pat joins the dedicated members, staff, and consultants of the Portfolio Advisory Board: Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, Chair; Lloyd Van Bylevelt, Vice Chair and Adrian Dominican Associate; Board members Cynthia Curry Crim, Sister Mary Priniski, OP, PhD, and Leslie Watson; Sister Elise García, OP, General Council Liaison; Kristine Cooper, Office Manager; Dee Joyner, Adrian Dominican Associate and Director of the Congregation’s Office of Resilient Communities; and Pat Zerega, Sister Judy Byron, OP, and Sister Corinne Florek, OP, consultants. Their professional backgrounds can be found on the Board and Staff page of the PAB website.
“It’s a tragedy.” That’s how Sibley Simon characterizes the affordable housing crisis in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas.
Sibley, president of New Way Homes, has seen firsthand the suffering that goes on when people can’t find a place to live. “More people are getting out of long-term homeless situations, but more people are becoming homeless. There just isn’t enough housing.”
Sibley’s organization is just four years old and is based in Santa Cruz, California. It seeks to fuel new construction of low- and moderate-income rental housing from Salinas to Santa Cruz to Oakland.
New Way Homes relies on churches and other mission driven groups – such as the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) and the Religious Communities Impact Fund (RCIF) – to help reach its goals. In the short time it has been around, New Way Homes has invested $7 million in new, affordable housing. “Our mission is to create housing without using public subsidies for construction,” Sibley said. “What’s needed is getting new sources of capital.”
New Way Homes attracts investors by offering a reasonable but limited return on investment. “We are responsible to investors to a point, but our main purpose is ‘How do we do more for housing,’” Sibley said.
New Way Homes is currently working on 10 housing projects, two of which are set to begin construction in the spring of 2020. One is in Santa Cruz and will provide seven units of permanent supportive housing for formerly chronic homeless individuals. The second project, being done in Oakland in conjunction with a local church, will create 12 work-live units.
Sibley said RCIF and the Adrian Dominicans were among the first to have invested with New Way Homes. “It is my belief that anyone doing impact investing, whether it’s big corporations or foundations, has to know what they are looking for and have very strong principals,” Sibley said. “They need a strong understanding of what’s going on, but they also should not be burdensome to the nonprofit group trying to do their work. Both the Adrian Dominicans and RCIF have maintained an impressive balance that has a track record of success.”
For decades, the popular – and, unfortunately, all too true – narrative, “Women don’t help other women,” was a prevalent message in American society. Michigan Women Forward (MWF), formerly Michigan Women’s Foundation, was founded 33 years ago to change that storyline – for good.
MWR is one of the many organizations the Portfolio Advisory Board supports through its Community Investments Fund. This fund provides investments and loans to community-based enterprises that demonstrate a commitment to social justice through alternative economic endeavors.
The founders of MWR crossed the state party lines and social strata and together leveled the playing field of the state’s female populace. They were early disrupters and innovators and they inspire the work of MWR every day.
MWF mission: To accelerate Michigan’s progress by advancing equality and opportunity for women and girls.
MWF vision: A Michigan where women are recognized leaders who thrive, contribute, and uplift the state’s future.
MWF focuses its work on four pillars:
Woman Up – Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. With less than 10% of venture capital and traditional funding going to women – and much less than that to low- to moderate-income women and women of color, MWF provides access to capital, education, technical assistance, and mentorship to women wishing to start and grow successful businesses. Our underlying principal is simple: If you change the life of a woman, you change a family. When you change a family, you change their community.
UGOGirls – MWF works to ensure that this Unstoppable Generation of Girls (UGOGirls) is just that … unstoppable! MWF works with middle and high school girls who see themselves as being “smart” and “leaders” to help them see a path to college, career, and community service. Last year, 100% of their summer campers said they had learned to work together as a team and collaborate on shared goals, and 100% said they planned to pursue post-secondary education.
Behind Every Woman positions MWF to inform the state’s agenda around women and social justice. Its campaign, Enough Sexual Assault in Detroit (Enough SAID), generated sufficient funding to test all 11,341 rape kits previously ignored in a warehouse and guarantee adequate resources for five to seven years of investigation and prosecution of the offenders. These actions sparked statewide effort to eliminate backlogs everywhere and prevent this injustice from ever happening again.
HERstory is designed to ensure that the stories of amazing women throughout Michigan’s history are preserved to inspire those making history today and tomorrow. To date, 323 women have been inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
While the hope was that inequity and inequality would be a thing of the past by now, women continue to need help, and MWF doesn’t see this changing in the foreseeable future. Much of its current work is geared toward financial sustainability for MWF and the women and girls of Michigan.
The Community Impact Notes, in which the Adrian Dominican Sisters invested, are key to a strong future sustained by those with the foresight to believe in MWF's mission.
In his 2018 book, Democratizing Finance: Origins of the Community Development Financial Institutions Movement, Clifford N. Rosenthal makes references to the key role Adrian Dominican Sisters played in the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) movement – and in bringing the Sisters’ social justice focus to finance.
The author notes the Congregation’s establishment in 1974 of the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), which, rooted in Catholic social justice teachings, brings social justice to finance through shareholder advocacy with corporations and community investment (page 73).
He also cites the Congregation’s “leading role among faith-based community investors” when, in 1982, it awarded a $30,000 low-interest loan to the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (CDCU). He notes that, of all community investors, “the Adrian Dominicans were distinguished by their strong engagement: they wanted to see the impact of their investment first-hand, and where needed, to try to help out with workouts when organizations ran into trouble” (pp. 121-122).
Finally, he cites the recent critique of CDFIs by Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, consultant to the PAB and Director of the Religious Communities Investment Fund and the Mercy Partnership Fund. Sister Corinne has called on CDFIs to remember their original purpose, to grant loans to community organizations seen as too risky for commercial banks, and not to get side-tracked by focusing on the strength of their own financial performance.
For more information on the Portfolio Advisory Board of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, explore their webpages or contact them at 517-266-352 or PAB@adriandominicans.org.
Posted April 1, 2019
August 28, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Neighbors in an abandoned area of Detroit, people evicted from their ancestral lands and living in a “squatters’ community” in a desert area of the Dominican Republic, and the homeless population in the State of Washington. People in these situations were able to overcome their desperate circumstances, form community, and improve their lives with the help of individual Adrian Dominican Sisters.
| VIEW A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE PRESENTATION AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE |
The Sisters who ministered with the people to form these communities shared what they learned during an educational forum that was designed to help others in the Congregation to help create resiliency in their own communities. One of four Enactments of General Chapter 2016 commits the Congregation to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins, valuing their faith, wisdom, and integrity.”
Although resilient communities can be defined in a number of ways, the Adrian Dominican Sisters have adopted this working definition: “one that has a long-range sustainable vision that emerges from the community through an inclusive, collaborative process that engages diverse grassroots leaders and persons who have traditionally been marginalized; creates partnerships built on trust; seeks equity and justice; draws on spiritual wisdom and is healing; and reflects a concern for future generations, living within Earth’s regenerative capacity (i.e., ‘one-planet thinking’). These elements combine to promote the well-being and vitality of the community and its ability to address ongoing stressors from crises or disasters and sustain itself into the future.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Leadership Council designated 2018 as a year of study about resilient communities. Resiliency in our Midst, held on August 22 at Weber Retreat & Conference Center, brought forward the personal experiences of Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Judy Byron, OP.
While the ministries they spoke of differ, the three Sisters also spoke of ways that they specifically fit the Congregation’s working definition of resilient communities. Many of these communities fit a number of aspects of the definition, but below are highlights.
In their ministry, Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Renee Richie, OP, waked with and fostered the leadership abilities of the local women living with their families in a cluster of houses – essentially a “squatter’s community” at the crossroads of Cruce de Arroyo Honda in the Dominican Republic. “We told them we couldn’t lead the meetings because our Spanish wasn’t good,” Sister Maurine said. They role-played with the women so that they could manage an upcoming meeting – and helped them to build up their confidence. “About a dozen women emerged as leaders.”
Once the women came to understand that God did not want them to be poor, they worked together to meet the community needs that they themselves identified. Working as committees, they brought to their community prefabricated latrines; medical services, such as weekly consultations by two doctors, a pharmacy, and a medical lab; and Fe y Alegria Espiritu Santo, a school that began with 127 first-grade students ages 6 to 16. Because of earlier lack of educational opportunities, many of the students began first grade at an older age. The school now boasts a K-12 program with 1,500 students and professional teachers who graduated from their school.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Associate Patricia Gillis founded Voices for Earth Justice as an interfaith community “praying, learning, and taking action together for Earth justice.” The community was developed to address the environmental injustice plaguing the people of Detroit. In 2011, they purchased five lots with two buildings in the Brightmoor area of Detroit and built Hope House as a “gathering place and resource for neighbors and visitors,” especially around the area of environmental justice.
Voices for Earth Justice offers a number of workshops and retreats and leads the community in actions such as climate marches and lobbying with legislators, but remains focused on spirituality. “Prayer was and is our focus – to bring people together to pray for peace for all creation,” Sister Janet said. “We believe a spiritual transformation was needed to make the pollution and destruction stop.”
Sister Judy Byron, OP, serves on the Board of Directors of Mercy Housing Northwest, an organization founded in 1992 through a collaboration of five communities of women religious in the Seattle area – including the Edmonds Dominican Sisters, now merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters – and Mercy Housing, Inc. The goal was to create stable, permanent, affordable housing for groups that could otherwise be homeless, including low-income families, seniors, and immigrants and refugees.
Today, Mercy Housing Northwest manages about 54 properties, residential complexes in the State of Washington that offer services such wellness and after-school programs. Many of those complexes were developed through partnerships. For example, Emerald City Commons – a 60-unit complex in Seattle – was developed through collaboration with an evangelical church, which had owned the property and wanted to build housing on it. Mercy Housing Northwest partnered with them to develop the complex, Sister Judy said. She explained that Mercy Housing Northwest also collaborates with government organizations, foundations, and other social service and non-profit agencies to develop housing for people in need.
The models described by Sisters Janet, Maurine, and Judy can serve as inspiration for the various Resilient Communities Committees in the Congregation’s Mission Chapters explore areas in their geographic region where they can work with local residents to create resilient communities.
Feature photo (top): Sister Christa Marsik, OP, poses a question to one of the three panelists speaking during the Resiliency in our Midst educational forum.
From left, Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP, and Judy Byron, OP, listen to Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, during a panel presentation. Associate Dee Joyner, Director of Resilient Communities, listens from the podium.
Portfolio Advisory Board, Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
Phone: (517) 266-3523 | Email: