Meet our Small Business Assistant!

Lisa shookMeet our Small Business Assistant, Lisa!  Lisa brings extensive customer service experience and a degree in marketing to her position at the Mi Casa Women’s Business Center.

The interview below reveals Lisa’s passion for the Latino community and Denver.

What made you interested in working for Mi Casa?

I appreciate what Mi Casa is doing for the Latino community and the Denver community as a whole. Here at Mi Casa, we are giving people the tools to improve themselves, their families and the community. Empowering people with new skills to successfully start a business or launch a career gives our participants confidence, knowing they can achieve their dreams and pass on their  knowledge to their children and grandchildren.

What are your job responsibilities at Mi Casa?

I am working in the Mi Casa Women’s Business Center, which is a very fast-paced work environment, which I love.  We help people by giving them information on how to start or grow a business with tools, classes and the individual counseling necessary to help entrepreneurs take their business to the next level.  It is very exciting work and I look forward to seeing all of our students become successful business owners and take their businesses to the next level.

Where is your hometown?

I am from Seal Beach, CA.  Nobody has heard of this tiny town so I usually add that it is between Long Beach and Huntington Beach.

Where have you traveled? 

Outside of the United States, I have been to Ecuador, Costa Rica, Spain, Portugal, England, Guatemala and Italy.

Describe yourself in 3 words. 

Innovative, Loving, Enthusiastic

What is your favorite restaurant in Denver?

My favorite restaurant is Ave. Grill on 17th Ave.  They are consistent with their service and food quality. The staff is always friendly, they have delicious and innovative food, and they make a great Lemon Drop martini.

What are your hobbies/favorite pastimes?

I enjoy gardening, cooking, hiking, snowshoeing, dancing, and hanging out with my family and friends.

Do you volunteer anywhere in the community? 

I volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission where I prepare food, greet guests and serve food.  It reminds me of all the things I am grateful for in my life while helping the homeless in the Denver metro area.  I also volunteer and dance for a non-profit organization by the name of Barrio E’.  Their mission is to create a space where people from all different backgrounds can come together and learn that we all come from the same roots through song, dance, and music.

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Alan’s Story: Mi Casa Super Participant

alanAlan, a rising 8th grader, is what is known as a “Mi Casa Super Participant.” Ever since he started 6th grade at Lake International School, Alan has come to afterschool programs at the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center almost every single day.

When Alan started 6th grade, he was quiet and reserved, often taking his cues from his more gregarious peers. But as Alan settled into the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center community, he discovered new activities that sparked his imagination and ignited his passion for learning and helping others.

STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and math) is at the core of many of the club activities at the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center on the Lake Middle School Campus. One of these clubs, iCode, introduces middle schoolers to computer science and basic computer coding, as well as the related career paths.

“Alan became his best self in the iCode club,” said Lauren Brown, Manager of Out-of-School Programs at the Lake Neighborhood Center. “He discovered a passion and grasped the information quickly so that he was even able to help the teacher instruct the class and offer individual support to his peers.”

Alan himself is a bit shyer about his contributions. “I don’t want to brag about it, but I was good at it. We worked a lot in teams and it felt good to help people,” he said. “Coding is fun. It’s like a puzzle.”

Alan also served as a host when 5th graders from Cowell and Colfax elementary schools visited the Mi Casa Neighborhood Center on the Lake Campus to get a taste of what middle school would be like. He led the students and teachers on a tour of the school, answered questions about life in middle school, and organized a soccer game for the elementary school visitors.

Asked what advice he offered the younger students, Alan said, “Listen to the teachers. They help you a lot. But you have to try and you have to do your homework. And if you want to have a good job, you have to work hard in school. I also told them they should come to Mi Casa because you can make friends and do your homework and the staff is really nice.”

During the summer, Alan enjoys Mi Casa’s summer camp and after next year, he plans to go to North High School where he will continue his involvement with Mi Casa at the North Neighborhood Center.

Says Alan,“I think the world would be a better place with more Mi Casas.”

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Meet our Career Development Trainer!

alanaMeet our Career Development Trainer, Alana!  Alana brings great experience as both a teacher and a former staffing agency recruiter, making her the perfect person to guide our career participants through classroom training in technical skills, job readiness and professional development.

Read the interview below to learn what countries Alana has visited and her favorite Denver restaurant!

What are your job responsibilities at Mi Casa?

I facilitate the Bilingual Bank Teller and Customer Service career training courses to help participants develop personal and professional skills that they will utilize throughout their career. Throughout the 6-week classroom training, participants go on tours, role play with each other, and create professional portfolios.  My role is to be a support and guide for the students.

Where is your hometown?

Denver!

Where have you traveled?

I have an incredible passion for travel, so I have been to a lot of places!  I studied abroad during college in Argentina as well as Thailand and was fortunate enough to travel throughout those regions.   While I taught English classes in Japan through the JET Program, I was able to travel throughout Japan as well as a couple places in China and Indonesia.  Outside of those, I have been able to volunteer internationally in both the Dominican Republic and India.

Where else have you worked?

Before joining the Mi Casa family, I worked as a teacher in Okinawa, Japan. Most recently I was employed at a technical staffing firm in downtown Denver as an Account Director – selling our services to other companies in the Colorado area.

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Energetic, Enthusiastic, Motivated

What is your favorite restaurant in Denver?

I love Osteria Marco – they have amazing pizza and happy hour specials!

What are your hobbies/favorite pastimes?

I love to travel, read, and stay active by skiing during the winter and playing tennis during the summer.

Do you volunteer anywhere in the community?

Currently I help out with Breakthrough Kent Denver, a fabulous organization that offers tuition free, educational non-profit programs for Denver Public School middle schoolers.

In the past I have also volunteered with CASA, an incredible organization that enures children in the foster care system don’t get lost in the legal or social service systems and are placed in a permanent home.

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Faby’s Story: From Construction Worker to Sales Rep

fabyFabiola (Faby) Gonzalez used to work in construction. The physical nature of the work was a challenge and working outside in the heat and cold wasn’t ideal, but she was grateful to be employed. It allowed her to be independent and care for her 11-year-old son.

But her employer didn’t provide any paid time off, and when Faby became ill and couldn’t work, she lost her job. She was forced to go on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to support herself and her son.

Overnight her income dropped to under $400 a month, and Faby wasn’t sure how she would manage. She couldn’t pay rent; she couldn’t afford to fix her car or renew the registration; and her unpaid utility bills were starting to pile up.

“It was so stressful,” Faby said. “I didn’t have a place to live, money problems were mounting left and right, and it was just one crisis after another.”

Faby was referred to Mi Casa’s Customer Service career training program by her TANF case worker. She wasn’t sure what to expect. She just knew she needed a job and hoped she could find one that offered benefits and a greater measure of financial security.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Mi Casa. But I definitely didn’t expect the class to be as intense as it was. Every day was packed with really good information,” said Faby.

“It was an interesting personal journey for me and all of my classmates. Mi Casa helped us realize that we are all a lot stronger and more capable than we thought we were.”

At Mi Casa, Faby received intensive customer service training, including conflict resolution, relationship management, dealing with angry customers, and more. She also worked with a career coach to focus her job search and identify employment opportunities and met with a financial coach to learn how to create a budget and a savings plan.

Through Mi Casa’s employer partnerships and networking events, Faby connected with a recruiter from Verizon. Fast forward seven months and Faby is happily employed as a bilingual retail sales rep at a busy Verizon store in Aurora.

Her employer offers tuition reimbursement – as well as health insurance and paid time off – and Faby plans to take advantage of the benefit to study marketing or human resources.

“I love my job,” Faby said.  “And Mi Casa gave me both the self-confidence and professional tools I needed to be successful.”

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Meet Our New Volunteer Specialist!

lizzyMeet our new Volunteer & Outreach Specialist, Lizzy! Lizzy just moved from Oregon to join our team and has already made a number of community connections!

Find out more about Lizzy in the interview below, including her favorite restaurant in Denver.

What made you interested in working for Mi Casa?
Mi Casa perfectly aligned with my goal of working in a Latino-focused resource center, and I was impressed by its history and multifaceted programs.

Describe your job responsibilities at Mi Casa.
I oversee the volunteer-run Job Seeker Program. My role is to grow and create a self-sustaining Volunteer program after my AmeriCorps term ends.

Where is your hometown?
My hometown is Flagstaff, Arizona, but other hometowns include Portland, Oregon and San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.

Where have you traveled?
I’ve been so blessed to have lived briefly in Mexico and also visited Panama and Guatemala. I have also lived on the Mediterranean island of Malta, and visited a dozen other countries in Eastern and Western Europe.  I love to travel internationally, but some of my favorite destinations have been camping and backpacking trips right here in the U.S.

Where else have you worked and in what position?
I have worked in both administration and direct services for a number of nonprofit organizations, sometimes as an employee, more often as an intern or volunteer.  I dabbled in behavioral health social work for two years, but most of my work has been community development oriented.  The highlights include public health outreach at Portland’s Consulate General of Mexico, grant writing at Huerto de la Familia, employment advocacy at Centro Latino Americano, community organizing with Repeal Coalition for Latinos, and research, writing and outreach for the Sierra Club Tribal Partnership Program.

Describe yourself in 3 words.
Kind, eats chocolate.

What is your favorite restaurant in Denver and why?
The Denver Bicycle Cafe. They fixed up my bike and they have deliciously strong coffee.

What are your favorite pastimes?
I love walking my dog, riding my bike, being outdoors, hiking, camping, cooking, taking care of my houseplants, learning to garden, and happy hours.

Do you volunteer anywhere in the community?
I volunteer at an urban farm called the GrowHaus in their Food Box Program and Mercado del Lado.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities at Mi Casa, do not hesitate to contact Lizzy at 303-539-5631 or LizMiskell@MiCasaResourceCenter.org.

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Achieve your Dreams with Budgeting

BudgetingBudgeting may seem daunting, but it is an essential component to taking control of your finances and meeting large goals, such as buying a house, paying for your child’s education or getting out of debt.

Creating a budget will help you determine whether you are spending more money than you are earning, and where you can cut unnecessary spending.

Identify Expenses

First, identify how much you are spending in the following categories: groceries, transportation, clothes, rent, utilities, entertainment/restaurants, insurance/medical expenses, childcare and miscellaneous. Track expenses by saving all receipts for a month and totaling how much is spent in each category at month’s end.

Increase Savings

After tracking your expenses, determine where you can cut or decrease spending to increase your savings to at least 10% of your monthly income. For example, instead of buying lunch out every workday, you could bring a lunch from home and save $40 or more per week, and over $2,000 per year!

Increasing your savings will allow you to create an emergency fund to avoid going into debt over unexpected situations – such as the sudden loss of a job or unforeseen medical expenses – and also allow you to work toward achieving your goals.

Track Spending

Once you have decided how much money you should spend in each category, track your purchases and payments every month to ensure you stay within the guidelines you have created. Concentrate the most on the categories where you have decided to decrease spending, and note progress toward your goals.

Once your budget is in place, you may find that you need to alter it slightly within the first few months. Keep in mind that adjusting to a budget takes time, and that if you keep with it, tracking expenses will soon become routine.

Free Financial Counseling

If you would like help setting up a budget or getting out of debt, free bilingual financial counseling is provided at Mi Casa Resource Center through mpowered. To learn more or set up a free appointment, call 720-944-2498.

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Jessica’s Story: A Triple Threat

Jessica PictureAs a female business owner in the male dominated industry of construction, Jessica is not one to shy away from a challenge.

“When I told my former supervisor I was going to start a business, he told me I had three things working against me- that I am a woman, I’m young and I’m Latina,” said Jessica, a native of Mexico. “I said, wait and see; I’m going to make those things work for me instead of against me.”

Before starting an environmental consulting business for the construction industry, Jessica was a project manager for a local construction company. But she was laid off during the Great Recession and for many months searched fruitlessly for work.

Going from a professional with a comfortable income to unemployed on an extremely tight budget was incredibly trying for Jessica. It was in the midst of her financial struggles that Jessica approached Mi Casa with an idea to launch a business.

Armed with seven years of experience in the construction industry and certifications as an inspector and storm water specialist, Jessica hoped the challenges and rewards of starting her own business would outweigh the risks and sacrifice.

“You have to be willing to give up who you are in order to be who you want to be,” said Jessica.

At the Mi Casa Women’s Business Center, Jessica found the educational resources she needed to prepare for a successful business launch. She completed Mi Casa’s 13-week Business Success training course and later went on to enroll in Mi Casa’s next-level entrepreneurial training program, Business Breakthrough, where she developed a strategic plan to grow her operations.

“At Mi Casa I learned about all the components of a business: structure, marketing, operations, finance,” said Jessica. “Mi Casa also pushed me to forecast my financials, establish pricing, and make a plan for future growth.”

Jessica established her business, Environmental Consulting Services, LLC (ECS), in 2011. And she has continued to turn to Mi Casa for ongoing consulting support, help obtaining business certifications, and advice on how best to manage her growing operations.

“Mi Casa has helped me form a big picture plan for my business and then map out the small steps needed to achieve growth,” said Jessica. “I learned about the hiring process and how to get a website, as well as how to determine what growth made financial sense for my business.”

It hasn’t been easy for Jessica. Though the owner of her company, she is often assumed to be the secretary by male peers. Yet Jessica has persisted and fought to be respected and regarded as a competent woman-owned business.

Through Mi Casa, Jessica received high-quality business training and individual consulting support to obtain certifications, loans and develop a strategy to compete in an industry dominated by men and large companies.

“Mi Casa helped me become a confident business woman,” Jessica said. “They provided me with the learning and networking, and I worked as hard as I could to take advantage of those opportunities. Now I have a seat at the table with the big construction companies.”

With five employees, ECS has seven to ten contractors. In 2013, ECS had a gross revenue net of $51,460 and a profit of $18,603. Jessica expects ECS to grow 50% in 2014 due to an increase in inspection services. She plans to hire two to three storm water compliance and erosion control inspectors within six months.

Jessica was recently chosen to participate in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s selective Emerging Small Business program, which will equip her with the knowledge needed to grow ECS through expanding its federal contracts.

When asked what advice she has for other small business owners, Jessica’s answer reveals her robust ambition, “Persistence is key. I have always believed that I can compete with anyone in my industry by doing a great job at a competitive price. And guess what? I am!”

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Allyce’s Story: Delicious Success

????????Life can change quickly, which is a truth Allyce (pictured at right with Mi Casa Women’s Business Director Elena) learned firsthand after she went from earning a six-figure income and living in a 5,000 square foot home with her husband and three children, to divorced and unemployed with $34.17 in her bank account.

But Allyce has also learned that dreams do come true. After losing her job and becoming a single mother, Allyce decided to pursue her dream of starting her own business and giving back to the community. She started a concierge service and prepared meals and snacks for clients, who raved about her sweets.

The popularity of her desserts gave Allyce the dream to start a catering business specializing in baked goods. She turned to Mi Casa Women’s Business Center in order to gain the training and tools she needed to develop Delicious and Divine, an exclusive catering business of homemade quick breads and desserts.

“Mi Casa gave me the best business tool I have, which is how to determine the unique feature and benefit of your business,” said Allyce. “I learned the first step to starting a business is truly understanding the why and how behind what you want to accomplish- as well as your target market- and the rest follows.”

Allyce enrolled in Mi Casa’s comprehensive 13 week Business Success class as well as a Metropolitan State University of Denver business course through Mi Casa to develop a detailed business plan.

Holding true to her dream of giving back to the community, Allyce also went on to complete Mi Casa’s Greater Good Academy, a course focused on helping entrepreneurs build socially responsible businesses by focusing on the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profit. Through this class, Allyce developed a plan for pursuing her passion of helping sexual assault survivors.

Headquartered in Cherry Creek, Delicious & Divine officially launched in November 2013. A portion of all proceeds is donated to the Denver Children’s Advocacy Center, a local nonprofit supporting the survivors of childhood sexual trauma.

Allyce is currently working with Mi Casa to facilitate relationships with coffee shops to display and sell her desserts and, as a self-proclaimed “artist of baked goods,” also has plans to expand her menu options.

“When I first started taking classes at Mi Casa, the Business Director said Mi Casa Women’s Business Center is here for me as long as I need it, and that I can return for free business counseling at any time,” said Allyce. “I was amazed at the support Mi Casa provided me.”

Allyce’s experience at Mi Casa inspired her to tell others about the agency’s programs and to give back so others could experience the same support she had.

“I was so touched by the support I received that I told Mi Casa’s Business Director I would one day give back to Mi Casa and that I would be a spokesperson in the community for the agency,” said Allyce.

Four years later, Allyce did just that through hosting a Delicious and Divine Open House Scholarship Fundraiser at Mi Casa Resource Center. The event was open to the community, and a silent auction featuring local artisans benefited Mi Casa Women’s Business Center.

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Meet Joe Rael: Director of Talent Acquisition

JRMi Casa TalentSource Director Joe Rael is far from new when it comes to starting staffing agencies from the ground up, which makes him just the person to head Mi Casa’s new social enterprise venture.

“Joe has hit the ground running since he was brought on staff at the end of 2013,” said Mi Casa CEO Christine Marquez-Hudson. “His leadership and expertise have helped us begin to put the TalentSource business plan into action, but we realize the community’s support is vital to our success.”

The crowd-sourced fundraising campaign raising final startup funds for TalentSource is in its final days.

Contributing to Mi Casa’s social enterprise will ensure our ability to continue empowering families to trade poverty for lasting economic self-sufficiency for years to come. Please help us finish strong! Visit our campaign here.

Joe says he enjoys being involved with the start-up phase of staffing agencies and developing initial processes, procedures and policies. He is also committed to the social enterprise aspect of the TalentSource business model.

“Starting from scratch and seeing the end product is rewarding,” said Joe. “The more successful I am able to make TalentSource, the more Mi Casa will benefit.”

Before Joe came to TalentSource, he co-founded 5280 Staffing and within two years grew the company to more than $2 million in revenue. Prior to that, Joe was hired to start a Denver branch of a Fort Collins-based staffing agency, and within four years grew the new branch to generate $3.5 million in revenue.

Joe credits his success to an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to differentiate his staffing agency from the pack. And Joe believes his determination and work ethic also play major roles in his past achievements.

“I have a continual and strong drive to succeed,” said Joe. “And I’m not afraid to work at any level in the staffing industry,” he added, explaining he does not shy away from necessary grind work.

Joe is also a former Mi Casa volunteer; he has helped with mock interviews and provided resume assistance to community job seekers.

“The vision for TalentSource is to provide support for Mi Casa, so Mi Casa can continue to support our community,” said Joe.

And Joe has no doubt that Mi Casa TalentSource will be a success.

To learn more about TalentSource, click here or contact Joe at 303-539-5691.

Quick Facts about Joe Rael:

Favorite Sport to Play: Flag football. Joe played in a league for 15 years and refereed for 4 years.

Favorite Sport to Watch: Broncos! A Denver native, Joe is a self-proclaimed orange and blue fanatic and even attended John Elway’s Hall of Fame Induction.

Favorite Restaurant: Right Coast Pizza

Word of Advice: “I really encourage individuals who are not familiar with Mi Casa to take the time to find out about all the programs they offer. As a volunteer, I was shocked by the depth and breadth of the services Mi Casa provides. It’s an incredible resource for the community.”

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Help Us Spread the Word!

We are in the final stages of launching TalentSource, a full-service staffing agency, which will connect Denver area employers to a skilled and diverse workforce while also generating funds to ensure our ability to continue helping families achieve economic self-sufficiency for years to come.

To raise final startup funds for TalentSource, we launched a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign through Indiegogo.

Help us spread the word about our Indiegogo campaign and TalentSource by participating in our social media campaigns!

Each 3-week campaign will pose a question relating to the meaningfulness of employment or future planning, and participants will be entered to win a $50 Visa gift card drawing. To enter the drawing, answer the question by leaving a comment below the question graphic. Participants can be entered into the drawing up to 3 times by commenting each week the question is posed. Winners will be announced on our Facebook and LinkedIn the week after the campaign ends. 

Get started now! What are you doing to ensure your future success? Answer by commenting on our Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

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