using money to build community

In late 1982, Peter Thibeault, a consultant for the Tri-County Community Action Program (CAP), had a grant to support cooperative housing and business development in New Hampshire’s North Country. The CAP liked the idea of creating a revolving fund to support numerous projects but had neither the structure nor the expertise to run it.

So Thibeault called Chuck Matthei at the Institute for Community Economics (ICE) in Western Massachusetts. Matthei and Michael Swack, the founder and director of the country’s first Community Economic Development Program at what is now Southern NH University, were developing a concept for a new kind of loan fund.

Their vision was that the fund would lend to land trusts and other projects that benefitted and empowered communities, but that were considered high risk by other lenders; and that the fund would attract investors who wanted to make a difference in their communities.

“Chuck was very concerned that people have choices and options, that they could invest their money in their communities and help build community,” says Swack, who was also a member of ICE’s board. “He was also one of those rare people who was a deep thinker, but for whom deep thinking only mattered in the sense of how it went into action.”

“His real commitment was: What can we do in a concrete way that will look both at the institutions in society and at how we can improve them? And, more important, how can we improve people’s lives on a day-to-day basis?”

Capital had met mission. They invited others into the discussion –the Sisters of Mercy (a lender to ICE), NH Legal Assistance, Merchants National Bank, the New Hampshire Committee on the Status of Women and other interested groups.

They incorporated the Community Development Loan Fund (soon renamed New Hampshire Community Loan Fund) in September 1983. Matthei advised them on organization, policies and procedures. The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation provided crucial operating grants, office space, expertise and connections. Tri-County CAP’s grant provided the first equity for the loan pool.

They hired Julie Eades, a Master of Business Administration student at the University of New Hampshire, to work 10 hours a week. Eades was in an experimental course called Explorations in Entrepreneurial Management, and her class became the Community Loan Fund’s first business plan.

Three questions remained, Swack says. The group wondered: Was there a need for the capital? Would they be able to translate the need into loans? Were there organized communities to loan to?

The answer to the first question was Yes. The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund would soon answer the other two.

Read about the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s first loan, and its first investment.

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