It’s not every day you see somebody hugging a banker, but at Accion USA it happens all the time.
Especially uptown, where the pioneering micro-lending organization gives immigrants, women and minority small-business owners the financial tools to work their way up and out of poverty.
“She is my angel,” said Mexican restaurant owner Gladys Remache, as she embraced Accion loan officer Elizabeth Bueno this week during a site visit.
Bueno recently approved a $26,000 loan at 6.99% interest for Remache to renovate Kahlua‘s Cafe in East Harlem, where the single mom has been putting in 16-hour days since she opened the restaurant in 2002 and is now trying to compete on a gentrifying E. 116th St.
She has 42 months to pay back the $730-a-month loan, and has never missed a payment for the first loan of $15,000 Accion gave her when she opened, Bueno said.
“I was turned down by Citibank, Chase, everyone because I didn’t have established credit,” she explained in Spanish. “I could not have built this business without Accion’s help.”
Last year, Accion USA, the country’s leading not-for-profit micro-lender, lent $2.3 million to over 300 small-business owners in the New York metropolitan region, ranging from $500 to $50,000. The organization also reaches 3.3 million people in developing countries around the globe.
“We’re in the business of lending for change – change in New York’s communities, in the lives of our borrowers, and in the lives of their families and employees,” said Gina Harman, Accion USA’s president and CEO.
Remache is the perfect example. Not only is she able to support herself and her teenage daughter, but the 19-table eatery with excellent food, a jukebox and pool tables also provides jobs for six employees.
A mile across town, on 125th St. in Harlem, Muntaga Jalloh is also living the American dream – New York style – with the help of Accion.
He has a thriving cell phone store and a stream of steady and local customers, including city bus driver Henry Haddock.
“He’s got a nice aura about him,” said Haddock, who stopped in to pay his phone bill. “And the store is a nice addition to the area.”
Jalloh, 36, came to New York from Sierra Leone in 1999 and worked for a cousin in Harlem before saving up enough to open First Stop Wireless.
In the 10 years since he opened, he has gotten three loans from Accion. The $38,000 over the years has allowed him to stock the shelves full of merchandise and furnish the small, attractive space he shares with a jewelry and pawn shop.
He approached Accion after he maxed out his credit cards, had used up his line of credit on a home equity loan and needed $8,000 “just to get the key into this place.”
Accion’s young and eager staff also helped Jalloh clean up his credit history and taught him how to balance his books.
“I was an immigrant with no credit and the banks weren’t willing to gamble on me,” said Jalloh, a father of two. “If I didn’t have that extra merchandise, I wouldn’t have the sales and I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Business is good, thank God. I still have the doors open.”
“For somebody starting off with no connections in this country, Accion is the only place doing things to help people like us,” he added.
BY HEIDI EVANS