“WE MAKE LOANS TO HELP WOMEN SUCCEED”
It may be hard to believe, but $500, loaned at the right moment, can do more than save the day. It can change a life. Such is the experience of Healing Hearts Bank, a program begun by the National Council of Jewish Women in 2011. NCJW Executive Director Ellen Alper said Healing Hearts Bank is a natural extension of the organization’s mission – To Repair the World, especially for women, children and families. When the bank loans a woman $500 and she goes from poverty to establishing a successful business, it is clearly fulfilling that mission, Ellen said.
The bank makes loans to women who meet specific guidelines. But unlike loans made with traditional institutions, Healing Hearts Bank makes loans to help women succeed. The loans carry requirements. They have to be repaid at 5 % interest. But the bank is a community service, and true to its name it has a heart. If a woman has an emergency and can’t make the agreed-on payment, she can make payments as small as $5 without penalty, Ellen said.
The program provides benefits beyond the loan. Participants can serve as volunteers on the business side of the lending. They pick up marketable skills and build a resume in the process. In addition, although this isn’t a traditional bank women can create or improve their credit rating as they pay off their loan.
Healing Heart Banks are located at eight agency sites throughout the community. This makes the program more accessible for clients. Although each of the sites has to follow basic guidelines, they are free to include some conditions of their own, Ellen said. “Some limit the amount of the loan because they better know their clients’ needs,” she said. And some mandate financial counselling as part of the loan process.
Since its inception Healing Hearts has made 93 loans. Although most are paid off there are some that have to be written off, Ellen said, but they are the exception. “Women see paying off their loans as a form of paying it forward. When they pay off their loan there is money for somebody else.”
Incarnate Word Foundation provided the NCJW with initial seed money for Healing Hearts. Both entities have similar goals Ellen said, with shared missions of service to women and children, particularly in the area of ending poverty.