Tools, connections and empowerment: How these OC nonprofits are helping small business owners thrive

One of the nonprofits aims to help people without access to more conventional business startup pathways.

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Saturday, April 8, 2023
ABC7 Solutions: OC nonprofits help small business owners thrive
Early success for a small business can be difficult but one Southern California group is providing a lifeline, letting some small business owners dream big.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Maria Torres thought selling food was just going to be a side hustle to help get her through difficult times, but now, she said it's helped her discover a new sense of empowerment.

"Now, I'm a powerful woman. I'm a capable woman," she told Eyewitness News in Spanish.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Torres found herself unemployed. The single mother of three fell into a deep depression and therapy led to the idea of starting her own business.

"In my situation as an immigrant, I never thought that it would be possible to own a business, said Torres.

That's until she found CIELO, an organization Torres described as a mentor. It helped her build her Tlacopan Cocina Mexicana catering business.

CIELO aims to help people without access to more conventional business startup pathways and their help doesn't stop at micro grants of $1,000 to $5,000.

"We essentially help to acknowledge people for who they are and that is incredible, resilient, resourceful, intuitive individuals who have the power to change their lives and the lives of their community members and their family members if only provided the right resources and tools and coaches," said CIELO Executive Director and Co-Founder Iosefa Alofaituli.

The organization can't do it all alone.

This month, the Orange County Community Foundation chose CIELO and 16 other nonprofits for its giving day initiative, focusing on organizations helping people get the skills and opportunities to make a living wage in Orange County.

"We host the website that all the organizations are fundraising on, we also provide the marketing toolkits and training to help all the organizations be successful and they're building a brand around what they're doing with workforce development," said Carol Ferguson with the Orange County Community Foundation.

With guidance and $5,000 to cover startup costs, Torres can use her Mexican traditions to make her American Dream a reality.