Now a year old, CRC’s Economic Equity Promotora Program sets its sights on improving access to the banking system for marginalized communities
For some Californians living in rural, low income or communities of color, just the act of opening a bank account might seem like a task fraught with daunting and embarrassing roadblocks — language barriers, banking desserts, fear of rejection due to previous banking mishaps or even unfriendly service from bank staff, to name a few.
CRC’s Economic Equity Promotora program aims to remove these roadblocks by providing vital education and access to resources that these communities might otherwise miss out on.
“We want to help these historically ignored and marginalized communities build and sustain household wealth. And that starts with financial empowerment,” says CRC Organizing and Campaigns Manager Patricia Villasenor.
The program is led by promotoras — community-based advocates who provide guidance and assistance on issues affecting the communities where they live. Promotoras have historically provided education around issues of healthcare. CRC promotora model, however, is underscored by the idea of financial empowerment, which emphasizes skillset and confidence building, in addition to education. Moreover, it goes beyond the concept of teaching “financial literacy.”
“The people who our program helps are already financially literate. They know how to pay their rent, they know how to pay their cell phone bill and they know how to budget for groceries. But what they might not know is how to shop for a low-interest credit card, how to avoid predatory lenders, or they may not have the confidence to walk inside of a bank and open a bank account because banks have historically been unfriendly to people in their communities,” Villasenor said.
And while there are institutions that teach financial literacy and many other promotora programs across California, CRC’s model is the first to be used for economic wellness.
Promotoras have a rich history of influence in underserved and rural communities. The promotora model can be traced to Latino communities in the mid-1980s, where the community advocates would provide educational services on health-related issues.
“If you’re a promotora, then you’re a trusted individual in the community,” Villasenor said. “They’re the voice, the liaison between industry and a subject that is affecting that community. They not only provide knowledge to the community, but they also provide mentorship.”
CRC currently has a team of two promotoras: Sabrina Oshseri and Delmis Lorenzo.
“Each of our promotoras has worked in these communities. Sabrina has worked with arts nonprofits in South Los Angeles and Delmis has worked closely with healthcare promotoras in Central Los Angeles,” Villasenor said.
“It takes honesty and commitment to be a promotora,” Lorenzo said. “These communities trust you, and they want to hear your story so that they don’t feel like they’re the only ones to have made a financial mistake or who doesn’t know every intricacy of the financial world. I can tell them that I’ve been there before. And they connect with me, because of that.”
Villasenor said promotoras need to be willing to learn and adapt–a skill that has been useful since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Promotoras are constantly learning new ideas and adapting to new concepts, in order to pass that knowledge down to the people they work with,” Villasenor said. “We’re constantly tweaking, changing, adding and subtracting from the workshops.”
That mentally was embedded in the program from the start.
Shifting to a new reality
When CRC initially conceived the program as a part of its strategic plan, it was meant as a face-to-face program, where CRC would host community meetings in Southern California and Bay Area neighborhoods, and promotoras would perform in-person outreach directly in those neighborhoods.
“Well, we realized that the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon. So we reworked the program to being virtual,” Villasenor said.
And while the program began its offerings as virtual-only workshops, Villasenor and the promotora team have slowly begun offering some in-person workshops (the first of which was offered in late October). Still, whether in-person or virtual, the year-old program has already made an impact on communities.
“We’re meeting people where they are — literally and figuratively. And that’s the real value this program brings to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and Spanish-speaking communities. We go to their homes, and they sit down with trusted members of the community who are able to answer their questions and walk them through various processes,” said Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, CRC’s Executive Director. “Helping communities who have long been institutionally disconnected from banks is what this is all about.”
Become a Promotora:
Our Economic Equity Promotora program is growing, and we’re looking for a part-time promotora to grow alongside it. If you’re interested in working in your community to promote financial empowerment, then we encourage you to apply.