Nonprofit center helps immigrants build business

By: Jennifer Collins
Marketplace Money
January 21, 2011

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Plaza Adelante in San Francisco has become a nonprofit hub that’s helping the surrounding Latino neighborhood create and build their small businesses.

Tess Vigeland: The U.S. financial system can be dizzying and so time consuming for most of us. And it’s even worse for immigrants who are trying to navigate it.

One solution for them can be found in California: it essentially serves as a “mall” of nonprofits. All of them are dedicated to providing financial education and assistance to Latinos. Marketplace’s Jennifer Collins reports.

Jennifer Collins: I’m standing in the lobby of Plaza Adelante on a Monday afternoon. People are hustling through this three-story building in one of San Francisco’s best known Latino neighborhoods.

Carmina Valdez: Quierres un chocolate?

Carmina Valdez owns a gift shop in a small market on the ground floor of the building.

Valdez: This business is like my baby. I have to nurture it, but I also have make sure it has a future.

This business might not be here today without the help of the nonprofit organizations that set up shop in this former furniture store and warehouse. Upstairs, a peer-lending organization helped Valdez get an interest-free loan. Down the hall, a small business specialist mentors her. And on the floor below, there’s the computer center that loaned her a laptop so she can track her expenses and promote her shop on social networks.

Valdez: Here it is. The page in Facebook. It’s called Wrap UR Dreams. I already have lots of friends.

Valdez is one of thousands of Latinos who’ve gotten help at this one-stop shop for financial services since it opened eight months ago.

Valdez: I feel like this whole building is my family. It’s the first time that an organization has taken the time and wants to support us as Latinos.

The man who brought all these nonprofits together under one roof is Luis Granados. He’s the executive director of the Mission Economic Development Agency. His organization paid more than $9 million to buy the building and turn it into a financial resource center for Latino immigrants.

Luis Granados: I often hear them talk about, ‘Is this space really for us? Really for us?’ And they can’t believe that such a nice space is actually dedicated to them.

Claudia Viek: When you walk into social service center, all you see is sort of failures around you.

Claudia Viek runs a statewide network of microlenders.

Viek: When you walk into Plaza Adelante, what you see is success around you.

The nonprofits at Plaza Adelante refer clients to each other. People don’t have to run around town getting legal advice here or financial advice there — they only need to climb a flight of stairs. And they can drop their kids at the day care on the way up.

Jessy Gonzalez: Location, location, location is everything.

Jessy Gonzalez is the executive director of Caminos, the computer center that loaned Carmina Valdez her laptop. He says the nonprofits at Plaza Adelante can save money by sharing expenses on everything from copy machines to accountants. They could also throw joint fundraisers.

Gonzalez: When someone has an event, it’s an event for everyone. So everybody benefits.

The idea of bringing a variety of services under one roof isn’t new. There are nearly 200 nonprofit centers in the U.S. But typically they bring together social service or community development organizations.

China Brotsky is managing director of Tides Shared Spaces, which sets up nonprofit centers. She says Plaza Adelante is one of a kind.

China Brotsky: I don’t know of any others that do what they’re doing.

Brotsky says Plaza Adelante has already inspired a group of day laborers in Denver to organize a similar center.

Brotsky: Especially in this economy, a building that’s really focused on wealth creation and financial literacy for immigrant Latinos is just something that’s incredibly needed and there aren’t a lot of other options that these people have.

So it allows someone like Carmina Valdez to go in looking for a small business loan and come out with the small business itself.

Valdez: Without Plaza Adelante, there would not be this market and I wouldn’t have this business.

She says someday she hopes her gift shop will help pay her way through business school.

I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace Money.

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