Merit

Hugo Muñoz, left, and Omar Alvarado host a Merit information session at Los Primos on April 2.

INDEPENDENCE — MicroEnterprise Resources Initiatives and Training NW is hosting a “rural business boot camp” in Independence.

“Food, cleaning businesses, contracting businesses, agriculture and child care — those are the main businesses we work with, whether they’re Spanish-speaking or English-speaking,” said Omar Alvarado, diversity and inclusion coordinator for Merit.

Alvarado hosted an information workshop on April 2 at Los Primos.

“This is our first time to Independence with our new curriculum and our new method of outreach,” Alvarado said.

He’s been employed with Merit for two years.

“Before we started working, we developed a curriculum and a philosophy on diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “So everything that we do, whether that is our service or meetings or classes, all of them are with diversity, equity and inclusion in mind.”

That means creating equal access to Merit’s resources and programs to everyone, regardless of what language they speak, he said.

“Our staff is fluent in English, Spanish, Japanese, French and Danish,” Alvarado said. “Not that we use (those languages) too often, it’s mostly English and Spanish over here, but we do have those services available if anybody needs it.”

To reach people who speak English, Alvarado said the Merit team goes to Indy Commons or the Independence Public Library.

“For Spanish speakers in every city, we go to local businesses, go to restaurants, get a feel for the city,” he said. “Then where we see there’s a higher population of, for example, Latinos, in this case, Los Primos, that’s where we want to work together. For one, they’re a local business, two, they’re a Latino-owned business.”

He said they try to be inclusive by going where people meet and informing them of Merit’s services in the language they speak.

“I want to go where people of color, Latinos go,” Alvarado said. “There are a bunch of networking events, but sometimes they’re not tailored for people who are not the typical entrepreneur who already has a successful business.”

The current schedule of classes is in English, but everyone is welcome. If five or more people who speak a different language are interested in a class, it only takes a couple of weeks to get a class together.

“The purpose of doing the info session at Los Primos is to recruit more Spanish-speaking clients so we can have a class specifically for them,” Alvarado said. “Even if they’re not from independence, we’ll accept them. Everyone is welcome.”

Even if people are bilingual, they are sometimes more comfortable in a class that is taught in Spanish, he said.

Alvarado said there are ways they try to encourage their clients to be inclusive.

“For example, in understanding clients, (we ask) what demographic do you want to focus on and that’s when we give them ideas, have you ever considered this demographic?” Alvarado said. “Also in their business plan, when they’re considering location – have you considered this location instead of downtown, because this location could use some revitalization and more businesses of your sort could help the community.”

Merit also strives to eliminate financial barriers that may keep someone from taking these courses.

“Another inclusive part in our program and organization is that all classes and services are income-based on a sliding scale,” Alvarado said. “People pay according to their income.”

That works out to anywhere between $5 and $25 per class, he said.

The first set of classes is called pathways.

“In the first class, we’re mostly going over their mission and vision statement, what their product is and what their client is on the foundational level,” Alvarado said.

There is communication between participants as well as one-on-one coaching, he said.

Next is personal finance.

“In this class, they’ll learn to create a household budget for themselves,” Alvarado said. “It’s just to understand their current cash flow, look at their credit score and create goals.”

When someone completes those classes, they are eligible to register for the launch pad program.

“The pathways program is to determine if clients are actually ready to launch a business,” he said.

Sometimes, clients decide they are not ready, but can take time and return when they feel prepared, he said.

“In the launch your business class is when we help them launch a business plan, finalize it because they already started it from pathways,” Alvarado said.

They develop a marketing plan and will help people register their businesses with the Oregon Secretary of State.

In the the fourth and final in the series, the business finances class, participants start looking at different types of funding that’s available.

It also includes a succession plan, so people can decide how to exit their business when they are ready.

Alvarado was a Merit client before he started working there. He has a DJ and audio business.

“I’m in the same boat they are,” Alvarado said. “I’m working a day job and doing a business on the side, just like you. When I say these classes can really help you out, it’s because I mean it. This isn’t that short term satisfaction that so many people want. This is a commitment. So you can strengthen yourself.”

He said they understand how important entrepreneurship can be for some people, especially for low- to moderate-income families.

“If people already have a tough time as it is finding a good job, sometimes their only option is self-employment,” he said. “We see that a lot with the Latino community. One of the main things is food. Just because food — everybody loves it and for people who are not from the U.S., it’s the perfect segue to introduce yourself to other people.”

For more on Merit: meritnw.org

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