One of the many highlights of a recent MEDA Financial Capability training was lunch at a neighborhood eatery. This “shop within a shop” featured only one item on its menu: Mexican mole prepared daily by the owner herself, just like she used to do in her home state of Oaxaca. This is the way many MEDA Business Development clients start out, most immigrant-owned ventures; however, in this case, the scenario was actually played out in one of the more-rural parts of California.
Explains Director of Asset Building programs Lucy Arellano, “There is a myth that Latino immigrants face completely different challenges in urban versus rural environments. No matter where we are, we will leverage our strengths, motivations and work ethic to make a way for ourselves and our families. While there are a plethora of resources in cities — and, unfortunately, far fewer culturally relevant services in our farming areas — there is still a commonality of immigrant experience that supersedes possible differences, especially across California.”
It has been a goal of Arellano’s to expand and share best practices of MEDA’s integrated Financial Capability model to the Latino community of the Central Valley. She knew that many rural community members do not have a bank located within 25 miles of their residence or lack access to free Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) applications. These translate into obstacles to beginning a generational asset-building journey. That’s why Arellano was excited to bring new resources and supports into the neighboring region.
That goal is now being met for the first time, with Arellano and her team’s Jackie Marcelos and Laura Ospina (photo, center, standing) sharing MEDA’s integrated financial capability model with organizations serving up to eight counties in Central California. Currently focused in Fresno and Madera counties, the trainings will soon be implemented across this major part of the state’s breadbasket, a bustling agrarian economy exporting everything from grapes to almonds. This share-the-model program is supported by the Accelerator 6.0 project, an 18-month initiative, started in March 2018, that is funded by the California Workforce Development Board.
Such work has expanded MEDA’s reach, the organization already successfully sharing its Viva model at nonprofits across the country from Seattle and Denver to Phoenix and North Carolina.
Accelerator 6.0 project participants include the California State University, Fresno Foundation and its Office of Community & Economic Development (OCED), which runs innovative Parent University and Small Business University programs in Central California. These programs have provided over 5,000 community members with classes in English as a Second Language, digital literacy, parenting and small business development. While operating at various sites, there is also a mobile computer lab to serve rural areas.
OCED’s demographic is approximately 95 percent Latino, an estimated 75 percent low or moderate income and approximately 85 percent monolingual Spanish speakers. This is similar to MEDA’s client profile.
Another invaluable partner in Accelerator 6.0 is the Madera County Workforce Investment Corporation (MCWIC). This community-based organization is located in the Workforce Assistance Center (an American Job Center of California) and is the provider of career services for adults, dislocated workers and youth. MCWIC also offers services for Individuals with disabilities, veteran, reentry and English Language Learner populations.
MEDA, serving as an “innovation impact advisor,” kicked off training in June with OCED and MCWIC at the latter’s offices. Being such an advisor means providing integrated Financial Capability training and technical assistance. Once fully trained, OCED and MCWIC will be able to provide education and coaching for community members using MEDA’s Viva model and kit. Interestingly, at the training coaches asked for their own credit reports, so MEDA staff ran these on the spot.
There will be ongoing in-person training and shadowing, complemented by technical assistance via calls and emails. Training topics will focus on: education; a coaching model; introductory and advanced financial and credit coaching, including hands-on practice and role playing; how to open a bank account over the phone or online platforms for accessing asset-building products; client and staff engagement; and best practices for tracking and reporting impact (an income tracker is even being jointly developed.)
“I’m so proud that our team is sharing our Viva model in rural regions. You can leverage immigrants’ strength in any immigrant community, and financial capability is core to all of our individual and collective goals. Essentially, all of our goals are the same, from getting stable income with a steady job, securing affordable housing and having your kids succeed in school. While the current federal administration’s policies may be trying to limit our collective power, it is now more crucial than ever that the community bands together. We’re here to stay,” sums up an optimistic Arellano.