Supporting diverse entrepreneurs by aligning capital with social justice

Over the last decade, there has been a notable increase in Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Asian residents in Pennsylvania, presenting an opportunity to rebuild a racially equitable local economy. It’s increasingly clear that we must collectively address the barriers and inequities that limit the full economic potential of communities of color.

A long-standing history of serving Pennsylvanians

With a deep understanding of how small businesses help create unique identity and vibrancy in communities, Community First Fund (“Community First”) has worked with thousands of restaurants, bodegas, barbershops, nonprofits, and community developers across the eastern Pennsylvania market for over 30 years.

Community First Fund was founded by Black and Latino community visionaries with a dream to provide much needed capital to low-income entrepreneurs and community organizations serving the poor in South Central Pennsylvania. These leaders created community development loan institutions (CDFI)─ some of the first to form across the country, to address the opportunity gap and make capital accessible to all residents. To date, Community First Fund has provided $487 million in loans and investments across central and eastern Pennsylvania, 71% of which has gone to businesses owned by people of color. They have lending offices in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Reading, Harrisburg, York, and Allentown.

Joining forces via the Economic Justice Fund

Last August, Truist Foundation partnered with Community First’s Economic Justice Fund (EJFund) to support lending activities to Black and Latino entrepreneurs across its service footprint in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania. The $2.25 million grant was part of Truist’s recent $120 million commitment to strengthen and support small businesses nationally, with a focus on women and diverse business owners.

The EJFund showcases the transformative power of access to responsible financial services for underserved populations. Community First aims to grow this fund to $50 million over the next five years, with a focus on efforts that benefit the cities’ low-income communities and people─ especially African Americans, Latinos, and other People of Color who face the greatest barriers to accessing mainstream financial resources.

Community First Fund aims to create thriving communities and, through this Fund, prioritizes support to:

  • Businesses that provide jobs for low-income residents
  • The development of affordable housing units
  • Increasing access to fresh food, healthcare, and educational facilities

Community First Fund offers a range of small business loans with one-on-one business and financial technical assistance, ensuring entrepreneurs have the information they need to be successful─from creating a business plan to building their credit. With increasing rates of gentrification across the U.S., it’s vital for people to live in equitable and vibrant communities and access meaningful wealth building opportunities.  

Creating prosperity for low-wealth communities across Pennsylvania

The EJFund funds many of Community First’s programs, including the Affinity Group Lending (AGL) program based in Philadelphia which facilitates lending circles to help entrepreneurs access capital and build their credit in the U.S. AGL provides meaningful financial advice and builds sustainable wealth for their families and generations to come.

It’s not just about the loans Community First provides, but the education and technical assistance for all clients that come through their doors. Community First prides itself on helping clients become agents of change in their communities in the areas of affordable housing, access to food and healthcare resources, creating jobs and economic security, and increasing educational opportunities.

One of many success stories: Mamie Sardnee

Mamie Sardnee, owner of Woodland Produce in Philadelphia

Community First Fund knows that small businesses are the economic engine of our economy. Mamie Sardnee, originally from Liberia, is the owner of Woodland Produce, and runs a thriving neighborhood grocery store in Southwest Philly’s Little Africa. Ms. Sardnee came to Community First Fund (then Finanta) in 2014 with the dream to turn her grocery delivery business into a storefront. She received her first loan through the AGL Program and opened her shop shortly after. Nine years later, she continues to go through the lending and technical support program, allowing her business to grow and create jobs in her community. She aims to purchase a property to expand her business; her story captures the impact of Community First Fund’s work in supporting entrepreneurs in creating and growing their businesses.  

Supporting diverse entrepreneurs for the long haul

Small businesses are the bedrock of Philadelphia’s economy, and the trailblazing work of Community First Fund is creating opportunities for more individuals while supporting employees, families, and neighborhoods throughout Pennsylvania.

This Spring, the Philadelphia Business Journal recognized our partnership with Community First and its positive impact within the Greater Philadelphia region. The Truist Foundation is honored to be among the distinguished group of Faces of Philanthropy honorees who are making a difference in the lives of people and communities.

Together, with organizations like Community First Fund, we become a force against economic injustice by supporting and listening to racially and ethnically diverse and women-owned small businesses.

About Truist Foundation

The Truist Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation’s (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. Established in 2020, the foundation makes strategic investments in nonprofit organizations to help ensure the communities it serves have more opportunities for a better quality of life. The Truist Foundation’s grants and activities focus on leadership development, economic mobility, thriving communities and educational equity.