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Grant helps small businesses create healthy communities

With support from Kaiser Permanente, An Oakland-based nonprofit offers small business owners free education, loan referrals. Pictured, Guava Care owner Laura Rubio and a doll she uses to teach parenting skills to new mothers.

After years of working in child and pregnancy care, sometimes as a nanny, sometimes as a doula, and always dispensing expert advice along the way, Laura Rubio thought, “Why not start a business and bring it all under one roof?”

But where to begin? Like many small business entrepreneurs, Rubio needed help to get off the ground. Her expertise was in children and families, not business.

Through a tip from a friend, the 35-year-old signed up with the Oakland-based nonprofit Centro Community Partners and learned just about everything she needed to know ⎯ for free.

women with doll
Laura Rubio shows how a doll is used to demonstrate breastfeeding.

“They helped me create my business plan, develop a budget, make a web site, and figure out marketing,” said Rubio, who attended a 3-day Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, a 9-week Basic Entrepreneurship Program, and a final 9-week Advanced Entrepreneurship Program. “They are with you through the whole process, they make sure you understand everything, and they connect you to other organizations that can help.”

Her new business, based out of her Oakland home is called Guava Care, for the fruit that grows in her native Colombia.

“We support families from birth to early childhood,” said Rubio. “I have a newborn care specialist who spends time with families at night, helping with sleep, feeding, and changing diapers and another doula who works with pregnancies in addition to myself. From 4 months to 3 years, we also do sleep consulting.”

Centro Community Partners recently received a $115,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente as part of its commitment to help diverse small businesses grow as well as expand employment opportunities as part of a strategy to create healthy communities. The recent grant brings Kaiser Permanente support for the organization to $439,000 since 2017, said Chief Operating Officer Naldo Peliks.

“The biggest part of what we do is education, and that is through our workshops in English and Spanish,” said Peliks. “During a workshop, we might ask, ‘What are your expenses?’ or ‘What societal trends like a pandemic might affect your business?’ Then we get together and talk about it. In a group setting, those questions are really useful because students get additional feedback from other entrepreneurs.”

Low-interest loans

Peliks explained that his organization, which started in 2010, can connect entrepreneurs to organizations that provide low-interest business loans as well as a variety of educational avenues, including the Centro App that walks entrepreneurs through the process of creating a business plan. There are also in-person and virtual classes and workshops. Between 400 and 500 people a year find education or resources through Centro Community Partners, and about 60% start selling their products and services in the first year.

In Northern California a good portion of its clients come from Oakland, Hayward, San Jose and San Mateo as well as Stockton. It also assists underserved entrepreneurs and small businesses in New York City.    

“I don’t know where these entrepreneurs would go to get this kind of support without us,” said Peliks. “It’s really life changing. You’ll see some people who turn their lives around. That direct impact we have makes me proud of our team and the work we are doing.”

Kaiser Permanente’s financial support for Centro Community Partners helps create quality jobs and employs people facing barriers to employment, said Yvette Radford, vice president for Kaiser Permanente Northern California External and Community Affairs. 

“This work is critical because when small business owners earn money, they can afford housing and access health care, both of which create healthy communities,” said Radford.

Now that Laura Rubio is just about finished learning how to start a business, she is creating legal service agreements for customers with help from an organization she got connected to from Centro Community Partners.

The next step is growth and profit.

“I know that getting this education to start the business would have cost me a lot of money anywhere else,” said Rubio. “I’m really grateful for that.”







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