A rebranded Quad Cities foundation aims to give women a lift, and in the process, help raise up its first executive director.

Marcie Ordaz is the first full-time employee of the new lift Women’s Foundation, an affiliate of Rock Island-based Royal Neighbors of America. It was recently rebranded from the previous 20-year-old Royal Neighbors Foundation, and “lift” is an acronym for “Loans Inspire Futures Together.”

Marcie Ordaz is the first executive director of the lift Women’s Foundation (photo by Jonathan Turner).

They were dormant starting with COVID and went through strategic planning, after previously focusing on financial education and literacy geared toward women, Ordaz said recently.

They pivoted to do micro-lending for women-owned businesses, or businesses specifically serving women. The new Women’s Foundation is preparing to publicly launch, and the previous foundation never had staff, simply run by a board.

Ordaz is the first and only employee, after working for a year as director of development at Family Resources.

The foundation is financially supported by Royal Neighbors, as well as in-kind services like IT, HR and marketing, she said, noting she’s technically not a Royal Neighbors employee.

Ordaz does have office space at the RNA headquarters, 230 16th St., Rock Island.

“The rebrand and relaunch gave us an opportunity to refine lift’s mission, allow it to operate as its own entity, and uphold the mission and values of Royal Neighbors of America as a Fraternal Benefit Society,” said Karen Hayes, Royal Neighbors of America Operations Executive and lift Women’s Foundation Board of Directors President.

Karen Hayes of Royal Neighbors is the foundation’s board president.

“The lift Women’s Foundation used those founding principles to create a program that supports the community by connecting women in need to resources that will propel their personal and professional growth,” Hayes said Monday. “We are creating a direct path to capital for people in under-resourced communities, who do not possess personal wealth, and without gender bias as a risk. Our microloan program is a starting point that will allow women to take the first step toward financial independence.”

Loans of up to $5,000

The foundation is partnered with IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union, with funds placed there to be given out as loans of up to $5,000. Ordaz hopes to distribute 30 micro loans by the end of 2023.

They currently have six clients already, which got loans before she started her job.

Rock Island-based Royal Neighbors is a fraternal benefit society and one of the largest women-led life insurers in the nation. (royalneighbors.org)

The businesses don’t have to be new, and they don’t have to be sole ownership by a woman, Ordaz said.

“We’re focusing on community members that don’t have access – they couldn’t walk into a financial institution and qualify for a conventional loan,” she said.

One current client is a college student going to nursing school (and mom of a two-year-old), who wants to sell hair products for people with dreadlocks.

“She just had this drive to say, we need quality products in our community that we can go and buy without having to go to a bigger city to find hair products,” Ordaz said. She is planning to have online sales and work with Ms. Brimani’s in Rock Island to put her products in existing stores.

Loans will help in startup costs for the businesses, Ordaz said. There are two already in existence – one restaurant used her loan to buy a new stove and a cleaning service used theirs to buy larger washing machines.

Ordaz has reached out to other local nonprofits that serve women, to partner with the lift Women’s Foundation.

The foundation has a small board of directors, of about a half dozen.

Invite-only launch

There is an invitation-only launch event in Moline on Thursday, Nov. 17, to let the public know about the organization and its goals of empowering women and breaking down financial barriers.

The Nov. 17 event is not a fundraiser – there likely will be a first one in 2023, but more to raise public awareness and build connections in the community, Ordaz said.

Another current client is a Mexican immigrant, who couldn’t believe she got a loan.

“Again, they can’t walk into a financial institution and qualify for those traditional lending sources,” Ordaz said. This woman is a Mercado on Fifth vendor, who does embroidery and screen printing.

The micro loans have five years to be paid off, and to make sure they are affordable, a fixed interest rate at 6 percent.

“We’re talking about if there’s a woman who pays her loan off, if they want to get another one, to continue to help grow the business, there’s nothing written that says we can’t fund the same woman again,” Ordaz said.

Having small loans will allow the foundation to be able to fund more people, she noted.

Before Family Resources, Ordaz was an operations director for a call center company in Clinton for three years before COVID (she previously worked as a customer service rep for the center). She had to lay off her department, including herself.

“I was fortunate to have planned well financially, because we were a government program, we were already at risk,” Ordaz said of being contracted to the government. “I took that time, I joined Lead(h)er, and got a mentor to navigate.”

She was connected in October 2020 with Beth Grabin, chief financial officer of Ascentra Credit Union, meeting once every couple weeks.

“She’s fantastic,” Ordaz said. “She emphasized that I did not have to be 100% qualified for some of the jobs I was considering.”

It was Grabin’s recommendation to Family Resources that helped her get the development (fundraising) job.

“One thing I knew whatever I did, I wanted to feel every day that I had a purpose – that I was personally fulfilled with whatever it was I was going to do,” Ordaz said. “That’s what I stuck to.”