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The Gift of Opportunity

Created: 17 December, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read

Elsa Urzua, an aspiring jeweler and group leader with the Foundation for Women. Photo by Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

    When Claudia Camarillo’s oldest son was born with a disability, she knew life would be full of challenges. Years later, she had two other children. Life took on a steady pace, but the challenges kept on mounting. She suddenly found herself unemployed and desperately looking for a job. In June, San Diego’s Foundation for Women, gave her the break she was looking for.

    “It’s just marvelous,” says the 34 year old. “It seems too good to be true, but its changed my life.”

    Claudia is one of hundreds of local women who never dreamed of becoming entrepreneurs, but now they are. Step by step, the Foundation paved the way. The women, or borrowers, are given a series of micro-loans to jump-start their business. The first loan is $250.

    “Some women say, ‘well that’s not really a lot of money. My brother or my mom can lend me more than that,” says Elsa Urzua, an aspiring jeweler and group leader with the foundation. “But that amount goes a long way when you spend it right. Maybe you can get more money elsewhere, but you won’t get the same training anywhere else.”

    The borrowers use the money to buy materials for their business. Yarn for the sweaters they knit, fabric for the bags they sow, meat for the tamales they make and fruits for their baked goods. Once a portion of that loan is paid off, the women get a second loan for $500, then a third one for $1,000.

    The money motivates them to start their small business; the support empowers their souls.

    “We had a borrower who started off by selling tamales,” says Murugi Kenyatta, the foundation’s soft spoken executive director. “Now she owns her own shop in Chula Vista. It’s not only about business. It’s about a relationship. There’s something else that happens. It’s a support system.”

    About 600 women have taken part in the program since 2004. They usually hear about the foundation from other borrowers in their community. Claudia first heard about the program from a friend who lived around her complex.

    “My family told me it was a scheme,” recalls Claudia. “But I said, there is no harm in checking it out.”

    She was hesitant at first. She remembers being shy and quiet during the first few orientation meetings. But with three kids to take care of and no job, she knew she needed to be strong.

    “With my loan, I started selling clothes as part of my small business,” recounts Claudia. “But I wanted something more stable, so I asked the foundation for help.”

    Within a few months, Claudia was working at a catering business, helping set up everything from tables to food. The once shy and reserved mother of three, now volunteers as a group leader with the foundation.

    “I help other women who are just starting out,” adds Claudia. “I tell them what they can expect and how they can achieve it. I feel so much different now. I feel strong. I feel like I can tackle anything that comes my way.”

    For Elsa, the foundation started off as an escape from life’s daily routine. But her hobby turned into a job and it then became a mission.

    “I’ve always liked working with my hands,” smiles Elsa. “When I got my first loan the foundation took me to a store where I bought everything for a really good price. Step by step they helped me out.”

    For years Elsa never missed a meeting or a workshop at the foundation. Then all the hard work paid off. She vividly remembers how her love for making jewelry became profitable.

    “I had my little improvised table outside a women’s conference here in San Diego, recalls Elsa. “I sold hundreds of dollars worth of jewelry that day. It felt amazing.”

    For many borrowers the thrill isn’t about having their own business. It’s about strength, empowerment and confidence.

    “I see it all the time,” says Elsa as she shakes her head. “Women walk into the meetings and just stare at the floor. They don’t want to speak out. Sometimes they’re embarrassed to just say their names. But after a few months, it’s a complete transformation.”

    The loans have to paid off after a certain amount of weeks. The success rate for repayment is 98 percent.

    “The borrowers also have to set away some money for their savings account, says Kenyatta “We teach them about being responsible with their money.”

    When times get rough, the team responds. When a woman can’t pay a portion of her loan, other women in her group help with the payments. 

    “It’s a great cycle,” says Elsa. “Sometimes life is tough, but we’re taught to have each others back.”

     Once borrowers receive and repay all three loans, they are directed to an organization called “ACCION San Diego,” where women are able to get bigger loans to establish their business.

    “We want to give out more loans,” says Kenyatta. “We want to empower these women.”

     Although fundraising is always a challenge, the foundation does have funds to supply micro loans to more women.

    “Without the foundation, I don’t think I would feel complete,” says Elsa with a smile. “I feel like a woman, a mother and now an entrepreneur. An opportunity is the best gift.”

    The Foundation for Women has divisions throughout the county. They include groups in El Cajon, Spring Valley, National City, San Diego, Chula Vista, Encinitas, Escondido, Fallbrook and Solana Beach. For more information on the foundation, visit: