We extend that payment period from about two weeks to seven or eight months. We meet with the client every two weeks, though, and that’s when they turn in their payments. During that time we also help them with their finances. It all starts with asking them what their goals are in life. We really try to focus every single loan on what this person wants in life, where are they headed, and where do they see themselves going. And then from there, we try to put together a plan that’s going to help them accomplish those goals – things like, I want to send my kids to college.
We’ve had quite a few success stories. The first year that we actually gave out loans, we made three loans. This past year, we gave out another 10. So we are scaling up, slowly. This next year, we plan to give out 100 loans. One woman I could tell you about – she ran into trouble because she had four kids, and she was trying to raise them all as a single mother. She was trying to make sure they all stayed in school. One of them was heading off to college, and she had no idea how she was going to get him there. Basically in her situation, where she was living paycheck to paycheck as a substitute teacher, she ended up having a broken water heater. Her water heater was under warranty, so she got it replaced, but she couldn’t pay for the labor. She needed something like $400 to pay for that, and when she came to us, she had been living without hot water for two weeks.
So here we are as Notre Dame students, living in the Notre Dame bubble where we have our food cooked for us in a dining hall, where we have everything there for us – all of our friends, our hot water, unlimited resources – and we’re talking to someone in the community who hasn’t had hot water for two weeks. That kind of hit home for me. So we were able to give her the loan, and she was able get hot water back. I met with her every two weeks and we worked on trying to see how she could start putting together better plans. A lot of our impact will be long term, but we are planting those seeds. We make them go through their budget, make them see where their income is coming from, and we make them really plan out where their money needs to go. So while we don’t see anyone come out of poverty within a year, we’re using these small steps – building skills, which are going to help them a lot in the future – not just in the short term but forever. That’s what we’re fighting toward.
Another story that hit home for me is when I met with a woman at the local homeless shelter. We spoke at a weekly meeting, and this woman came up to us afterward, and she wanted to take out a loan. It was for her and her baby son, and she wanted to buy clothes. When we met I realized that she was 19 years old. So here I was as a 20-year-old in school at Notre Dame realizing that I have such a privilege to have an education – that I have so much here. When we looked at her financial situation, we actually realized that she was doing a pretty decent job of saving, but I don’t think that anyone had ever told her that she was doing a decent job. I think that in her mind she didn’t think that she was doing it right, and I actually told her that we would not give her a loan because she was in the right financial situation. She had the correct skills for saving. She could see herself moving out of the shelter in a month and a half, and I thought that a loan from us would actually put her back. So we’re not just out to give people loans, because sometimes those loans can take advantage of people, and that’s not what they need.
We have a staff of 31 students at JIFFI who all have amazing stories about people they’ve met with – I think that of all of us at Notre Dame, not many of us have experienced poverty, and we get an insight into it by hearing these people’s stories. We realize how much we have received and how privileged we are. I think at Notre Dame there’s a lot of spirit about giving back to the community in any way that we can.
The best advice I ever received was from my 11th-grade English teacher. One day she wrote on the board: Be Uncomfortable. Do not be afraid to go into situations where you might not know anyone, where you might be an outsider. I think being uncomfortable also means being a little comfortable with yourself, to be able to go into those situations. I don’t like saying no a lot to new things, and I’m kind of a spontaneous person. A lot of that came just from that one statement: Be Uncomfortable.
I first went to Notre Dame as a finance major, and quite honestly, I just wanted to make a lot of money. But after being there for a while, I started hearing a lot about how can we make a good impact on the world, how can we better our surrounding communities, how can we use our talents to really help people. At the end of my sophomore year, I actually made a decision to leave the business school, and I switched over to the College of Arts and Letters. I thought that taking the service route and just doing full-time service after school would be a better decision for me.