The Ossining Micro Fund (OMF) is a non-profit organization, established in 2004, offering interest–free loans to individuals and families who encounter unexpected financial obstacles. The OMF was inspired by the Eleanor Roosevelt No Interest Loan Fund (ERNILF), formed by a collaboration between a mosque, temple and church in Ithaca, NY, some three decades ago. The through-line connecting these organizations is Dana Levenberg, who serves as the Ossining Town Supervisor.
Dana’s aunt, and her uncle, a Holocaust survivor, were founders of the fund in Ithaca. They had a deep appreciation for being welcomed in a new land and thought about ways of “paying it forward”. Beyond getting acclimated to new surroundings, they knew personally some of the challenges faced by refugees who might need help dealing with unexpected financial problems. While wanting to give back, they needed to provide structure to the concept of granting no-interest loans with little paperwork, to identify trustworthy recipients, to get donors, and to partner with organizations to make this philanthropy sustainable.
Nearly 20 years ago, Dana saw the need for different helping hands in Ossining. Referencing the model established in Ithaca, she began working with Catherine Borgia, the other co-founder of the OMF. Soon, Henry Atterburg had the Ossining Rotary Club contribute the first donation. Before long, Sue Donnelley and Sandy Galef joined, to inform, engage, and attract partner organizations, donors, and professionals to establish operational procedures.
The OMF offers two-year loans of up to $2,000 to individuals who encounter unexpected financial obstacles. Current OMF President Mary Seacor reports 80 outstanding loans exceeding $90,000. The organization has a dozen volunteers providing their skills to screen applicants, raise money, and provide leadership. Capital raised from private donations is used for loans; repayments by recipients are plowed back into the revolving loan fund.
Can $2000 make a difference? Consider that over 40% of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. Examples of such sudden expenses include legal fees, security deposits, or medical expenses. OMF loans are extended to individuals who are connected to the Ossining community, are referred by another in our partnering network, and complete financial literacy training.
The OMF operates with the philosophy: “Give a person a fish, you feed for a day. Teach a person to fish, you feed for a lifetime”.
OMF provides loan recipients with a budget worksheet and has them track monthly expenses. This exercise prompts reflection on whether an expenditure is necessary or discretionary. It also forces consideration about the medium and long-term differences between, say, eating out versus buying groceries. Through counseling, participants become better at mastering strategies that control spending.
During OMF’s 2019 annual event held at the Bethany Arts Center, one loan recipient summarized her experience by saying, “The OMF has been like family to me because they gave me the tools and the confidence to better myself.”
This recipient borrowed money to pay legal fees to get her divorce. Previously, her ex-husband controlled household money management. After a slow start, she soon grasped the basics of budgeting, prioritized her expenses, and attended night school. She ultimately earned a Master’s degree. OMF’s loan, which she has repaid, helped her along the path to being better able to provide for her family.
In recent years, OMF has helped launch similar funds in Little Falls and White Plains, New York, as well as Branford, Connecticut.
The Ossining Micro Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit funded by individual donors, partnering organizations and grants. Visit ossiningmicrofund.org to donate, partner or find out more about participating.
Jean Charles serves on the OMF Board. Jean is a principal at WSI Vital Marketing, an agency that helps companies generate online leads, particularly through Social and Search Engine Marketing. You can reach him at JPCharles@wsivitalmarketing.com.