T.L.L. Temple Foundation Announces $1.15 Million in Grants To Communities Unlimited and PeopleFund To Launch the ROC-ET Initiative

Lufkin, TX: The T.L.L. Temple Foundation has selected Communities Unlimited and PeopleFund to receive $1.15 million in grants through the Rural Opportunity Catalyst for East Texas (ROC-ET) Initiative. The grants will support the two certified nonprofit community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to expand their presence into rural East Texas, increasing local direct access to tailored financial products, services, and technical assistance.

Many rural East Texas communities are working to overcome challenging trends, including declining populations, slowing economic growth, limited access to broadband, and lagging education and health outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the strain on rural people and places.

Local communities are resilient, but too many East Texans lack access to transformational economic opportunities. One glaring gap is the lack of CDFI services. There are more than 1,200 certified CDFIs in the U.S. with billions in assets, yet CDFI services are largely absent across rural East Texas. During the pandemic, these services have been critical in helping marginalized communities and businesses stay afloat, including early access to initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program. CDFIs are being funded at historic levels and have demonstrated success in accelerating equitable rural entrepreneurship and new business development. Unfortunately, without locally based CDFIs, communities, small businesses, and potential entrepreneurs in rural East Texas have been missing out on critical financial services as well as opportunities for technical assistance and capacity building support.

The T.L.L. Temple Foundation created the ROC-ET Initiative to address these opportunity gaps and launch certified CDFIs in rural East Texas. The ROC-ET Initiative was a competitive application process, and Communities Unlimited and PeopleFund were selected as best-in-class certified nonprofit CDFIs with a history of accomplishment in rural communities. Communities Unlimited and PeopleFund are committed to East Texas, bringing more than $3 million in leveraged loan capital and capacity building support for small businesses and entrepreneurs. By providing underserved rural communities with direct access to financial services that have never previously existed in East Texas, these grants are a major step forward in boosting local and regional economic ecosystems.

“Through the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s support, two of the highest quality CDFIs will become rooted in East Texas communities. These grants will make economic opportunities more accessible for all East Texans and represent a strategic milestone in our persistent pursuit to alleviate poverty and build a thriving rural East Texas,” says Wynn Rosser, President and CEO of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation.

Building on existing organizational infrastructure and strengthened by a recently awarded national Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Communities Unlimited will expand services to East Texas in its Environmental, Entrepreneurship, Lending, and Community Sustainability project sectors. Communities Unlimited will provide access to business loan products starting as low as $2,000 up to $100,000. It is building strategic relationships with local banks in order to partner with them on loans greater than $100,000. In addition, local Communities Unlimited staff will provide one-on-one intensive technical assistance, meeting small businesses where they are and preparing them for growth and capital. Rural communities will also have access to on-demand training via a learning management system and webinars to develop critical skills needed to better manage small businesses. 

“Communities Unlimited has been providing capital and technical assistance to rural water and waste water systems in East Texas for decades. We are excited to now bring more of our services to the region in order to meet entrepreneurs and small business owners where they are and support their growth. Thanks to the commitment from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, our local loan officer will personally connect entrepreneurs and small businesses to our customized, one-on-one managerial assistance, our business webinars, and our on-demand training options in addition to providing start-up and working capital solutions,” commented Ines Polonius, CEO of Communities Unlimited.

PeopleFund currently empowers economically disadvantaged and rural populations across Texas. Having recently received an award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to provide loans to small businesses in underserved areas, PeopleFund is well-poised to expand services to rural East Texas. Via one-on-one technical assistance, customized business planning, monthly workshops, and specialized initiatives, such as the BIPOC Small Business Accelerator and the Veteran Loan Programs, PeopleFund will support small business owners to create and retain jobs across rural East Texas.

“PeopleFund is proud to join the T.L.L. Temple Foundation in its Rural Opportunity Catalyst for East Texas Initiative. This is an unprecedented effort to support underserved small businesses with technical and financial assistance in East Texas, an area with limited infrastructure and often hit by natural disasters. Along with the support from T.L.L. Temple Foundation, PeopleFund is leveraging other public and private funds to establish a permanent office and create an initial pool of $1.5 million to be deployed in the area.” says Gustavo Lasala, President and CEO of PeopleFund.

By accelerating progress on the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s strategic plan, promoting rural entrepreneurship and support networks, and mobilizing additional public and private resources, these grants to Communities Unlimited and PeopleFund will achieve the ROC-ET Initiative’s purpose. For the first time, the East Texas economic landscape will include CDFIs and underserved East Texans will have access to lending and capacity building services to change their lives and communities.

About Communities Unlimited: Communities Unlimited, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation founded in 1976 that connects people to solutions through human connections. Through ingenuity combined with cutting-edge technology and expertise, people are unwinding generations of inequity and disinvestment to build healthy businesses, healthy communities, healthy food systems, healthy bank accounts and healthy lives. For more information, visit www.communitiesu.org.

About PeopleFund: PeopleFund provides small business loans as well as business assistance and education to people with otherwise limited access to such resources.  Since being founded in east Austin in 1994 as Austin Community Development Corporation, PeopleFund’s financial and educational assistance has helped create thousands of jobs and empowered an even greater number of Texans on a path to financial stability and independence. PeopleFund is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and operates as a non-profit 501(c)(3) serving all of Texas. For more information, visit www.peoplefund.org.