Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Nonprofit now funds business dreams for English speakers, too

Published: Friday, Sep. 20, 2013 - 11:09 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Sep. 20, 2013 - 11:30 pm

The nonprofit microlender known as Opening Doors Inc. worked hard over 10 years to establish itself as an agency that gives refugees and immigrants the funding they needed to start a small business.

That reputation is still deserved, but nowadays it sometimes works against the agency’s chief executive, Debra Debondt, and her staff of 16 as they have worked over the past year to extend microloans to all low- to moderate-income residents who have dreams of starting a business of their own.

“We’re here for everybody, not just for refugees and immigrants,” Debondt said. “That’s one of the messages that I’m eager to have people understand about us. Sometimes, when you walk through the door, we may not be able to lend to you. If you’ve got a 500 credit score, we’re probably not going to be able to help you with a loan for tomorrow – I mean, for literally tomorrow.

“But if you’re willing to work with us, we’ll get you into our MoneyWork$ program. That’s really custom-made to help you deal with that credit issue. It’s a slow process, but that’s a first step. We’re really there to help people step their way toward that loan if they’re willing to take some time.”

Opening Doors got approval from the Small Business Administration to be a microloan intermediary back in 2011, qualifying to receive $300,000 from the federal agency at an ultra-low interest rate. The nonprofit takes those funds and lends them, in amounts up to $50,000, to people who want to start a small enterprise. Debondt said the agency has made headway among native Spanish speakers, but native English speakers still don’t know much about them.

Opening Doors continues to assist immigrants and refugees who have dreams of running their own business with a separate pool of money, roughly $430,000.

Birth of an event

Sitting at the helm of nonprofits all around the region are firecrackers like Winnie Comstock-Carlson, the president and publisher of Comstock’s magazine. Besides donating their time as board members, each of these business leaders also pledges to raise a set amount of dollars.

As a director on the board of the Eskaton Foundation, Comstock-Carlson was responsible for raising $4,000.

“I couldn’t see that as being a good use of time – a large group-fundraising project, yes; 25 small fundraising projects, uh-uh,” said Comstock-Carlson, who finally hit upon the idea of inviting Dr. Mehmet Oz to speak at a local conference.

She met with Michelle Bouchard, the chief executive of Oz’s Sacramento-based HealthCorps, and by the time the meeting ended, they had set a goal of trying to lure 2,000 women to a Sept. 27 conference on health and wealth. Oz’s wife – producer, actor, writer and actress Lisa Oz – would be the keynote speaker, and proceeds would benefit both HealthCorps and Eskaton Foundation.

Neither Bouchard nor Kim Rhinehelder, vice president of philanthropy at Eskaton Foundation, knows whether the conference will wind up generating income for either organization.

Bouchard said she’ll be satisfied if she can just put Sacramento on the map with the high-powered women executives to attend . And Rhinehelder sees the Capital Region Women’s Conference as a way to spread the word that Eskaton provides services on a sliding scale to seniors all around the region.

“Many people believe or think that Eskaton only serves seniors that are high-end seniors and seniors that want to live in one of our communities, and … that’s really a big myth we’re trying to dispel,” she said. “ We serve all seniors. Ninety percent of seniors want to remain in their own home. We have a myriad of services that support those seniors living in their own homes.”

Big, red bunny action

People are talking about how The Wall Street Journal put our airport’s big red rabbit on the front page of its Thursday edition to promote a story on how public art is thriving at airports.

The rabbit sculpture, officially known as “Leap,” was featured prominently, but the big suitcase it appears to be leaping into was missing from the photos. Another piece well-known to local travelers – one of the two 23-foot pillars of luggage in the baggage-claim area of Terminal A – was pictured with the jump of the article.

Artist Lawrence Argent, the creator of “Leap” and an art professor at the University of Denver, hadn’t seen the newspaper yet, though his accountant had sent him a note about it. He said he appreciated the visibility and an opportunity to talk with a Sacramento Bee reporter about the sculpture.

“In essence, the rabbit isn’t what the story’s about,” he said. “The story’s about the suitcase and the luggage that we carry with us and how magical it is when our suitcase arrives at the carousel, and we have our belongings, and we go, ‘They didn’t lose it. I have all my stuff. My journey begins, or I’m ending my journey and I have all my stuff.’ That stuff is your stuff and my stuff, and they’re completely different, but it has a personal connotation for us because what we take with us and what we move from one place to another is completely personal.”

One fact Argent shared: The granite suitcase in the sculpture weighs 16 tons, while the aluminum rabbit weighs half that much.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

Read more articles by Cathie Anderson

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