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Thirty years ago, a group of community and business leaders had the vision to start an organization dedicated to the creation of an equitable and socially conscious economic community. Their foresight and determination shaped the same core values of justice and respect that Community First Fund lives by today. These leaders believed that everyone in the community had a right to make a decent living, deserved to reside in a safe, affordable home, and should have the resources necessary to build a future.
Today, Community First Fund is recognized as the premier economic development organization serving the low-income communities of central and eastern Pennsylvania. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, they provide loan capital to businesses, commercial real estate developers, affordable housing developers, and community support organizations as well as provide consumer and credit builder loans. In addition to loan capital, Community First Fund provides essential financial education and business technical assistance to borrowers to help bolster their financial and business successes.
Through the Years
Founder James Hyson was a local African American community organizer with a dream to provide much needed capital to entrepreneurs and community organizations serving South Central Pennsylvania. His idea was to create a community development loan fund, modeled after similar organizations that had begun to form across the country. Under his leadership, Susquehanna Valley Community Development Loan Fund was formed.
The new organization made its first loan to fund a multifamily housing project on East King Street in Lancaster. Its first business loan went to a newly founded cooperative that supported the Lancaster Domestic Violence Shelter.
Susquehanna Valley Community Development Loan Fund was renamed as Community First Fund.
Community First Fund received its certification from the U.S. Treasury’s CDFI Fund and the PA Community Development Bank. The organization also expanded its service area into York, Harrisburg, and Reading.
Daniel Betancourt was hired to lead Community First Fund as President & CEO.
Community First Fund was approved as a Small Business Administration (SBA) Microlender.
Community First Fund opened full time offices in York, Harrisburg, Reading, and Allentown.
During this time, Community First Fund was awarded $90 million in New Market Tax Credits through a program directed by the U.S. Treasury’s CDFI Fund. These tax credits were allocated to revitalization projects in low-income communities throughout central Pennsylvania, including Lancaster, Reading, York, Harrisburg, Lebanon, and Bethlehem.
On July 1, Community First Fund and FINANTA, a Philadelphiabased CDFI, joined forces to form a larger entity that now serves an expanded 20-county region. FINANTA, founded by Luis Mora, focused its products and services on the immigrant population in low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Today Community First Fund remains dedicated to carrying on the legacy created by Luis Mora. Daniel Betancourt assumed the role of President & CEO of the merged organization upon Mr. Mora’s retirement.
Through funding by the state of Pennsylvania, Community First Fund dispersed 2,585 grants for over $45 million to small businesses across eastern Pennsylvania, including providing 462 businesses with nearly $16 million in PPP loans and $3 million in forgivable loans.
Community First Fund opened its inaugural branch of the Community First Fund Credit Union in Lancaster. Community First Fund Credit Union aims to help build wealth and financial stability in the communities it serves and offer fair and transparent banking services along with financial education. It is a certified Minority Depository Institution, federally chartered and insured by the NCUA.
At our core, we are a social and economic justice organization. We work every day to ensure that our mission to create equitable and vibrant communities where individuals are able to achieve sustainable economic mobility becomes a reality. While we have come along way these past 30 years, we are always looking ahead. We know that there is still much work to be done to realize the full vision of our founders.” – Daniel Betancourt, President & CEO