News Column

'Pasos' offers steps to entrepreneurship

June 23, 2014

By Rachel Alexander, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash.

June 23--MILTON-FREEWATER -- Between finding financing, making sense of regulations and reaching customers, opening a small business can seem daunting.

For people who came to the United States from another country and are still learning English, that task can be impossible without outside help.

That's where the Pasos al exito (Steps to Success) program comes in.

Started in 2012, the two-year program helps Latinos in rural Oregon develop financial literacy and work toward starting a small business. After a pilot program in seven communities, including Hermiston, Pasos has come to Milton-Freewater, graduating 18 people from its first Spanish-language financial literacy class, Money Smarts.

"It's helped me very much," said participant Estela Saucedo, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico City 18 years ago and hopes to open a day-care business.

Saucedo learned about credit history, buying a house, budgeting and more in the program's first six-week course. She plans to continue Pasos' six-week "Starting Your Business at Home" class in August.

"These are all things that no one ever taught me," Saucedo said. "I like this type of class, what they're doing for the community."

After classes on finances and business management, Pasos participants spend the second year of the program working with local organizations and consultants who can help them get their businesses off the ground.

The program is run by Rural Development Initiatives, a group focused on rural Oregon. It uses grant funding and support from local organizations to put on the Pasos program.

"Part of our strategic focus is economic development for rural communities," said Kristine Mier, RDI's regional program coordinator. "There's a huge need in rural Oregon to teach people skills in microenterprise."

Though many parts of rural Oregon have significant Hispanic or Latino populations -- 24 percent in Umatilla County and 43 percent in Milton-Freewater, according to the 2010 Census -- Mier said rural development services are generally English-language.

"Nobody was filling the need to teaching Latinos how to open their own businesses," she said, explaining why RDI chose to start the Pasos program.

For Ayanel Guerrero-Deleon, Pasos was a gateway to new jobs. She took the Hermiston Pasos classes in 2012 then signed up for a free adviser, who helped her prepare a business plan to open a trucking company with her husband in the fall of that year.

"It was new for me because I'm from another country," she said. "This program really helped us to build our own business."

Now, she handles administration for their business and works at the Blue Mountain Community College Small Business Development Center helping others to do what she did. As part of that job, she'll help teach the Milton-Freewater Pasos class on starting a business.

"If they have the resources and support, they can do whatever they want," she said, "but they need to believe in themselves."

Javier Robles attended the first Pasos class with his wife, Obdulia, and said he's looking forward to continuing in August. With five sons at home, he'd like to open a family computer-repair business to give them something to do together.

In his experience, Latinos often limit themselves to jobs they feel comfortable with and know how to do, which often means agricultural work.

"We don't explore ... some other parts of the industry, of the jobs," he said.

He hopes a program like Pasos can help show people what is possible. Though he found the Money Smarts class a bit overwhelming because of the number of topics covered in a short time, he said the program has benefitted him.

"I think that's a good start to help people, especially our community," he said.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at or 509-526-8363.


(c)2014 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.)

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Source: Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (WA)

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