Personal Stories From Our Work . . .
Safe, clean drinking water, entrepreneurship, and community development--we've helped thousands of people, families, small business owners, and communities with these goals through the years. And we've gotten to know each and every one of them and have seen how our work has transformed their lives.
We are proud to share a few of their life-changing stories.
Wing Champs is a restaurant owned by the Ramirez and Ruiz families in Raymondville, TX. It provides an important third-space for young and old while generating about $65,000 in sales taxes each year. The business owners were referred to Communities Unlimited (CU) by the City of Raymondville Economic Development Corporation (REDC) when they were struggling to repay their small business start-up loan because of cash flow problems.
The closing of Wing Champs would have been a great blow to the local economy as they employ 19 people and Raymondville had already lost 350 jobs with the closing of two large employers in 2015.
Wing Champs had strong sales from the start but these were overshadowed by cash flow challenges. CU met with the Ramirez and Ruiz families and began to work with them to turn their business around. One-on-one consulting with CU management consultants and training on the use of a cash flow management tool helped them understand and better manage how money moved through their business. Maribell Ramirez said, ‘Small rural businesses like mine [need] to get this in-depth technical assistance to grow and provide local jobs.
Our town has been struggling... and many jobs have been lost... Communities Unlimited helped us step in the right direction... so that we continue to see growth.’
Small businesses make a difference in the economy of rural towns. Sometimes they just need a little help to remain sustainable and prosperous.
SmartCool of Arkansas, Inc.
SmartCool of Arkansas, Inc. is a heating and air conditioning company in Pine Bluff that has grown quickly over the last 3 years. They began diversifying their business by serving not only residential clients but more commercial clients and government entities such as the Arkansas Department of Health. To continue providing excellent service while expanding their coverage area they needed to add more vehicles and inventory.
They were referred to Communities Unlimited (CU) by partner organization Arkansas Capital Corporation. “I was happy to find that there are actually people that want to help small businesses,” said co-owner Lori McMillan. Lori owns SmartCool along with Patrick Shumaker. They began working with CU management consultants Liz Russell and Sydney Pack on a planned growth strategy, “Ms. Liz and Ms. Sydney have been spot on. They have been there at every step.”
Lori and Patrick currently employ 11 people in the Pine Bluff area and know their business’ success affects all their employees, so they wanted to be intentional about their business’ growth. CU is currently working with SmartCool on providing financing in the form of a small business loan utilizing the social investment loan from the Arkansas Community Foundation (ARCF). When asked about CU Lori McMillan said, “We look forward to working with them in the future.”
Pop's Market and Grill
Pop’s Market and Grill opened September 1 with help from Communities Unlimited (CU) in the form of an equipment and working capital loan. This loan is unique because it was the first loan that CU has closed virtually.
The business is a restaurant and market in Chuckey, Tennessee, a suburb of Greeneville owned by the White family. The grill offers quality food using local produce at reasonable prices; its market area offers quick-stop items such as bread, milk, and household staples.
The White family purchased commercial property two blocks off Highway 11E, the town’s main thoroughfare. The building previously housed the Village Market. From 1992 to 2013, the Village Market was owned and operated by Pauline Monk, who retired and closed her business when she turned 76. She leased the location for three years to a succession of passive owners and resolved to turn the building and operation over to a new owner who would provide the same level of service she had established over the years. She found the solution in the White family, who purchased the property from her in June 2016.
Ms. Monk sold the building to the White’s along with all the equipment remaining in the store market area and grill, including an oven, a freezer, three refrigerators, barstools, and booths. With the equipment loan from Communities Unlimited, the Whites were able to obtain the remainder of their equipment needs, including installation and ductwork for a new HVAC system.
The White family brings experience and a wide skill set to the business:
- Melissa White owns the majority of the business. She holds two bachelors’ degrees and works in the financial aid at Tusculum College. She previously worked at Food City, a local grocery chain, and was well thought of and outstanding in the area of customer service.
- Timothy White, Melissa’s father, is coming out of semi-retirement to join the family business. He trained at the California Culinary Academy. Locally he has cooked for church functions; he has developed such a loyal clientele that Pops has already filled its holiday catering schedule.
- Corey Orrey, Melissa’s sister, is a licensed cosmetologist who previously owned her own business. Her family reports she knows just about everybody in town!
- Mike White, Melissa’s younger brother, attends the local high school. He is a hard worker and a natural at customer service.
- Mona White, Melissa’s mother, is trained as a bookkeeper. She is familiar with QuickBooks and has already set up a chart of accounts and begun to track investments and expenses.
The store will be open M–Sa from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Cashier, stocking, and cleaning shifts will be split between Corey Orrey (day shift) and Melissa White (evening shift). Mike White will provide additional support during the summer an after 3:00 p.m. during the school year. Timothy White will operate the grill for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including preparation and clean-up. They will provide quality home-style meals using quality ingredients and locally sourced produce, delivered with superior customer service.
Ethel's Education Express Child Development Center (EEECDC)
In her home in Jacksonville, AR Ethel Knight began Ethel’s Educational Express Child Development Center (EEECDC). Ethel enjoyed working from her home caring for and teaching each child in her care. There was one significant disadvantage to having the EEEDC in her home. It limited the number of children she could reach. Ethel wanted to reach as many children as wanted to learn.
Her passion for education began when as part of the Greenwood, MS police force she became a D.A.R.E instructor. She went into schools and the community to educate children about the dangers and consequences of drug abuse. She also volunteered with the Boys and Girls Scouts of America and other youth-focused community programs. During this time she realized that if you could reach a child at a young age you could instill in them an eagerness to learn and a respect for others. Which is what led her to start Ethel’s Education Express Child Development Center (EEECDC). It was important to Ethel to have education in the name of her childcare service. She wanted people to know that the EEECDC was more than just babysitting. She was taking the time to prepare children for their first day of Kindergarten.
Members of Ethel’s church knew she wanted to move to a space that would allow her to expand the EEECDC, they recommended Communities Unlimited (CU). She applied for a loan in 2015 to move her home-based childcare to a larger site outside of her home. A CU management consultant worked with Ethel to decide if she was ready to undertake a loan. After working with the management consultant Ethel realized she needed help getting her business finances in order. She continued to work with a CU management consultant learning Quickbooks, and how to make financial projections. She finally felt like she understood the numbers.
She worked hard to tell the community about the EEECDC. Her hard work paid off when she had filled her home and had children on a waiting list. She again applied for financing and received it. Along with help from her church, she now is in a space that has the enough room for 42 children. It has a play area outside and 7 classrooms. Ethel is very excited to open her doors to more children in her community, and feels truly blessed that everything has fallen into place.
Marathon is a small West Texas town located in Brewster County. Marathon Water Supply and Sewer Service Corporation (Marathon WS&SS), a non-profit corporation, has owned and operated the water and wastewater systems for over 50 years. The wastewater system was built in the late 1960’s and consists of 6 to 8 inch pipes. The aging pipes no longer meet the city’s needs and are becoming a cause for concern.
The pipes are too small to allow Marathon WS&SS to connect additional homes to the wastewater system, and when there is significant rainfall the Marathon WS&SS treatment plant overflows sending untreated sewage into streets, homes and businesses. Raw sewage backups in these areas results in exposing the general public to raw wastewater flowing into their homes and businesses through floor drains and sinks. Past occurrences of backups have resulted in immediate temporary closing of public places until potentially contaminated areas are sterilized. Marathon WS&SS are using these measures to keep the people of Marathon safe. However the threat to public health will not be eliminated until the system is updated.
Marathon WS&SS is currently working through the Border Environment Cooperation Commission’s (BECC) Project Development and Assistance Program (PDAP) to rehabilitate their aging wastewater system. The planning phase, which was funded with a BECC grant, is complete. A PDAP grant will fund $80,000 of the next phase, the Engineering Final Design phase. Marathon WS&SS is required by BECC funding guidelines to provide $40,000 in matching funds for the design cost.
The manager of Marathon WS&SS, Jim Roberts asked Kathryn Hairston, El Paso Ombudsperson of the Texas Secretary of State for her recommendation. She referred him to Communities Unlimited (CU). Ms. Hairston said, “I feel comfortable recommending Communities Unlimited because I know they will help.” Mr. Roberts contacted CU’s Senior Loan Officer, Holly Baker, who worked with him to secure the needed funds to move forward with the project. When asked about his experience working with CU Mr. Roberts commented that, “Holly is just wonderful. She just is.”
This connection was made possible because of the Texas Secretary of State’s Office expanded reach through his ombudspersons.
Once the construction phase begins the main trunk line will be replaced along with other problem areas. Additionally the Marathon system will be extended providing first-time service to approximately 5-10 new wastewater connections. The construction phase is estimated at $1.2 million and is being funded by a grant from the USEPA’s Border Environmental Infrastructure Fund managed by the North American Development Bank (NADB).