Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Rachel Grose of Jewish Free Loan Association Is Helping To Change…

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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Rachel Grose of Jewish Free Loan Association Is Helping To Change Our World

Understanding the historical context and data is essential for making informed decisions, recognizing that decisions are interconnected and don’t occur in isolation.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Grose.

Rachel Grose is the executive director of the Jewish Free Loan Association in Los Angeles, where she has worked to create equitable distribution of interest-free loans for twenty-one years. She resides in Los Angeles.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was your typical teenager who wanted to change the world. Growing up in a suburb of Washington D.C. I was surrounded by politics but never interested in being part of a campaign or running for office. I searched for ways to have an impact on the community and began to understand the way nonprofit organizations helped with many systemic issues. In high school, I became involved with Amnesty International and became attached to the stories they shared about the people they helped. I graduated college with a BFA in art and started to look for ways to have a deep impact on the community. I stumbled across an MBA program that focused on nonprofit management, and I was hooked. My career in the nonprofit community was launched.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We have a loan fund called Feit 4 KidZ to help aspiring parents or individuals become parents. The Feit 4 KidZ Loan Fund began with a personal connection when a couple named Alan and Emily Feit reached out to me about how they could help others experiencing infertility. I remember meeting them in their kitchen for the first time and hearing Alan and Emily talk about their long and enduring journey to start a family and how they promised to pay it forward if they were ever successful. A week later, Alan and Emily came to the JFLA office and after talking more about how a Feit 4 KidZ loan fund could help others like them, I distinctly remember Alan saying to Emily, “Please take out your checkbook and write JFLA a check!” Alan’s parents matched this initial generous gift the following week. Motivated by a shared commitment, the Feit’s pledged to raise $1 million for the fund over several years and leverage their extensive networks to help raise the funds. The journey was incredibly rewarding, as we witnessed the impact through stories of clients on their fertility journeys and babies being born. The sense of fulfillment is evident, as it has become a 100% feel-good journey. We just celebrated 10 years of Feit 4 KidZ this past year!

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During lunch with a donor, I was tasked with making a $1 million request. As we sat down with this lovely man, I noticed the donor’s rather ambitious order — a steak that could rival even the heartiest of appetites. Timing became crucial; I aimed to ensure my request didn’t coincide with a particularly sizable bite.

As the donor delved into his colossal steak, I delivered the million-dollar proposition. The table fell silent, and for a moment, I couldn’t discern if he were contemplating my request or grappling with an oversized mouthful or worse. After what felt like an eternity, it became evident that the dramatic pause was one of flattery rather than a choking hazard. The donor didn’t end up making the million-dollar gift, but we had a good laugh.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) is the only non-sectarian interest-free lending organization in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties. Our 0% interest, no fee loans are the ideal tool to impact the major economic issues facing our community, including predatory lending, housing stability, student debt, access to medical and dental care, domestic violence, business insecurity, and more. JFLA has served the community since 1904, and currently has an outstanding portfolio balance of over $16 million to thousands of clients throughout the region.

Over the past year, our data proves that our loans have a real and lasting impact:

  • 40% of housing loan recipients would have ended up homeless or in a shelter without JFLA.
  • 64% of small businesses have increased revenue since receiving their JFLA loan.
  • 26% of business owners said their JFLA loan allowed them to add employees to their payroll.
  • 87% of students believe they are better off today because of their JFLA loan.
  • 25% of students would not have attended college without receiving a JFLA loan.
  • 65% of transportation loan recipients would have lost income had their JFLA loan not been funded.
  • 48% of loan recipients would have resorted to a predatory loan if they had not received a 0% interest loan from JFLA.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Paula, aged 87, confronted severe dental issues that impeded her ability to consume solid food. A financial gap of $4,000 remained after insurance coverage, placing her in a challenging situation. The interest free, no fee loan proved instrumental, enabling Paula to access the comprehensive dental procedures essential for her to eat. We have a lot of clients like Paula, or those struggling with unstable housing situations, or students looking for a loan to pay for college, and so much more.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Direct more resources to JFLA.
  2. Help spread the word about our work by introducing new clients to JFLA.
  3. Advocate for JFLA at policy, local, and personal levels.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is fundamentally about being present, especially in challenging circumstances and embracing opportunities to meet the moment. It involves proactively taking action without explicit prompting, demonstrating initiative. A true leader possesses a clear vision, purpose, and goal, reinforcing these aspirations with tangible actions.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

  1. People want to help. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, even if it means asking for money. There’s a right way to have every conversation.
  2. It is ok to ask for help. You can’t do it all alone.
  3. Having a mentor is crucial for personal and professional growth, providing guidance, support, and access to valuable networks. A mentor’s experience and insights offer a unique perspective, helping individuals navigate challenges, develop skills, and achieve their goals.
  4. Creativity counts and matters. It is what makes you stand out in a sea of people.
  5. Understanding the historical context and data is essential for making informed decisions, recognizing that decisions are interconnected and don’t occur in isolation.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would propose the creation of a nationwide interest-free, no-fee student loan program.

Current student loan interest rates are as high as 9%. A loan taken out today can easily double because of interest, and with rates going up, the debt burden is only increasing. The fallout from these loans ​casts a shadow over an individual’s lifetime​​,​ with most people still having significant debt even after making payments for decades. Some loans even last into someone’s retirement.

Elimination of interest creates loans that people can afford to repay and provides students with an affordable way to pay for their education without risking their future.

An interest-free, no-fee loan product would provide affordable student loans that can be repaid without the burden of interest, allowing students to focus on their education without worrying about compounding interest. Student borrowers would pay back only the principal in monthly installments until the loan is repaid. This would significantly reduce students’ debt, while also easing the financial burden on borrowers.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Henry David Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” I really believe that. There’s a cost to every decision, whether it’s money, time, emotional energy, etc. You should weigh this against every decision you make and only opt into the things that you’re willing and able to part with.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Hands down, Warren Buffet. I love his story and who he represents. He lives such a modest life compared to his peers. He’s been in the same home since 1958 and still drives a 10-year-old Cadillac! I think we could have an interesting conversation together. I have so many questions for him.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you continued success in your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Rachel Grose of Jewish Free Loan Association Is Helping To Change… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.