by Marlaina Donato
In 1985, a handful of advocates banded together to make a difference in the Capital Region, and through their efforts, created Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region, in Albany. The organization has financed more than 875 community development projects, built and/or renovated more than 1,315 affordable housing units and created more than 2,358 jobs. “The greatest thrill for us is when we see an entrepreneur realize their dream of opening their own business. To date, CLFCR has financed more than 315 micro-entrepreneurs, and close to 1,000 individuals have graduated from our small business training course,” says Director of Community Relations Lissa D’Aquanni.
Community Loan Fund provides free business counseling and technical assistance that does not end once a loan is made, and offers a high level of support to clients before, during and after a loan is granted. Most significant is the organization’s dedication to helping businesses with a social mission. “We often have borrowers who have experienced personal tragedies, and we reach out to them as soon as possible to restructure the loan when necessary. We see our borrowers and our clients as people first. It is a level of empathy and support that sets us aside from other lenders,” explains D’Aquanni.
The revolving loan fund assists businesses that are helping to elevate others, and an inspired part of this includes backing establishments hiring those that might find it difficult to find steady employment. “On the surface of our work, we provide business counseling and make loans. Because much of CLFCR’s work is community based, there is also a synergistic effect that is evidenced by borrowers working together to meet each other’s needs, and to create stronger, thriving communities,” says D’Aquanni. “Whether it’s leveraging additional dollars, creating synergy or building social capital, community development projects assisted and financed by CLFCR are so much more important than the amount of a loan or the number of jobs created.
These projects are spearheaded by people who have a vision of, and a commitment to, a vibrant Capital Region. Because of CLFCR’s model of affordable loan products, coupled with training and technical assistance, the projects are coming to fruition. Together, we really are strengthening communities and changing lives.”
Would-be entrepreneurs can expect seasoned and thorough guidance from start to finish, including strategies for fleshing out business ideas, expanding and fine-tuning business plans and guidance on identifying opportunities and as pointing out risks, as well. Community Loan Fund accomplishes a lot, but it is only by pooling financial resources from socially concerned investors, be it individual, organization or business.
D’Aquanni explains, “Investors are our most critical need. These funds are what we use to finance high-impact community development projects such as micro-entrepreneurs who are starting or expanding a business and nonprofit organizations that are building affordable housing or renovating a historic building or completing a project while awaiting grant funds. The best way someone can help us to continue our work is by doing something that is lasting, and the most impactful thing to do is become an investor.”
Community Loan Fund welcomes investments from faith-based institutions and mission-driven social groups to align money with personal values. By investing in local community development projects, Community Loan Fund ensures that each investment is working to promote economic justice. In addition, Community Loan Fund participates in several workplace giving programs, including SEFA, CFC, Community Works and United Way.
Ultimately, the organization aims for an outcome where everyone benefits, and this goal sparks D’Aquanni’s enthusiasm when she says, “Each loan represents years of planning and significant personal investment, so when that sign gets flipped to open, it surely is a victory!”
The Community Loan Fund will celebrate its 33rd Anniversary Event from 5-7 p.m. on Oct 24 at the First Presbyterian Church, 362 State St., in Albany. The event is free and open to the public and those interested in learning more about the fund are encouraged to attend.
Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region is located at 255 Orange St., Ste 103, in Albany, and 920 Albany St., in Schenectady. For information, call 518-436-8586 or visit MyCommunityLoanFund.org.
Marlaina Donato is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.