From micro lending to micro businesses

By From page A9 | January 13, 2013

Oly McKiernan has a business — “Just the Joe, Jack.”

“It’s a coffee cart — I started three years ago,” McKiernan explained at an event  promoting businesses owned by people with disabilities, held at the Veterans’ Memorial Center in Davis several weeks ago.

“My cart is in the lobby of an office building over by Sunrise Mall (in Citrus Heights),” McKiernan said. “I got a loan from Lending Works to get it started — $2,000. And I’m in the process of paying it back.”

McKeirnan brews the coffee himself, and sells it by the cup to office workers, along with some light refreshments. “I like having my own business. I keep busy, dealing with customers and making change. It makes me feel good about myself that I know how to do things and interact with people. I like working,” he said.

Dave Crawford was another exhibitor. He started a landscaping business in 2008, and went through Lending Works to get a loan. What started as a sole proprietorship became a partnership this year, when Joe Downing joined the company. They do business as Crawford and Downing Leaf Lawn and Landscaping, based in Citrus Heights. “You grow it, we can mow it” is their motto.

Lending Works, Inc. gives interest-free loans of up to $3,000 to individuals with disabilities who want to start or expand their own micro business. Loan recipients have started a variety of business including jewelry, landscaping and costume design businesses.

The president of the volunteer board for Lending Works, Inc, Jackson Murtha, is a micro business owner himself. Murtha, who lives in Davis, designs products for “Buttons ‘n Bears, oh my!” — a Davis-based business that has created custom buttons, pins and magnets for political campaigns, schools, businesses, sororities, fraternities and other groups.

“Jackson is very, very good with Photoshop and that’s part of what he brings to the business,” said micro enterprise coordinator Judy Odipo. She works for Community and Employment Services, and Progressive Employment Concepts, publicly funded services that help people with disabilities find and maintain jobs that match their skill sets and interests.

Murtha does the graphic design, giving each project a special look. Then business partner Anna Hoban makes the buttons. The business has a website, www.buttonsandbears.com, and a Facebook page as well. Hoban also gives presentations at elementary schools, telling young students what it’s like to have a disability, and a job.

Lending Works, Inc. is based in the PEC office in Davis. The non-profit organization was created by a $20,000 grant from Alta Regional Center, and a $10,000 grant from a private donor. Originally, loans were restricted to clients of the Alta Regional Center, but recently the applicant pool has expanded to include any individual with a disability living in Northern California.

In order to get a loan, an individual must have a valid ID, be at least 18 years old and have a business plan. They also have to demonstrate that they have the appropriate support to successfully run their business.

Lending Works, Inc. held a micro business fair at the Veteran’s Memorial Center on September 20. “The fair was an opportunity to get the word out for what Lending Works is doing” and encourage other people with disabilities to consider taking out a microloan to establish a business of their own, said Support Facilitator Steve Sweeney.

For more info go to http://www.lendingworksinc.com/.

Katie Helland

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