Valley nonprofit offers interest-free loans
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Anyone can find them themselves in a tight jam.
Unemployment, a devastating fire, an unexpected trip to the hospital ” the potential for a life-altering moment can come at any time. And the costs can be enormous. But for anyone needing an extra buck to get over an unforeseen life bump, a Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit is there to help.
DonorDirect, which operates what it calls its “Tide Me Over” Lending Fund, provides interest-free loans of up to $1,500 to help families and individuals overcome the chaos in their lives.
“Sometimes that [loan] is all it takes to enable them to keep their housing,” said Bartlett (she has just the one name), a 65-year-old Carbondale resident who founded the organization with her daughter, Holly Tullar, about 5 1/2 years ago.
“We have had this, two or three times, where a father is a carpenter and gets laid off, so he goes a month without work. Right before the rent is due, we get a call and [someone would] say, ‘We thought we could manage it, but we can’t. We are going to get an eviction notice. Can you help us?’ That, to me, is the most powerful thing. Each and every [borrower] is so grateful.”
From June 2003 to the end of November, DonorDirect distributed $91,159 in 115 loans to families and individuals caught in rough circumstances. Forty-seven of those loans went to families or individuals in Glenwood Springs, according to the group’s records.
The loans, which can be secured through an application process that includes a credit check, help pay for food, medical, housing, transportation and clothing expenses. Anyone who lives or works in the Roaring Fork Valley between Glenwood Springs and Aspen is eligible for a loan, said Bartlett, who is the group’s corporate secretary and administrator.
DonorDirect does not write a check to the affected resident. Instead, borrowers have to sign a promissory note and the money flows directly to the need provider, such as the landlord or a hospital, Bartlett said.
“We are in the loan business, we are not in the gift business,” said Bartlett, adding that a voting committee of three board members makes the call about whether to approve a loan. “The only thing we can do to keep this going is for the borrower to repay [the loan].
Everyone has been doing a great job of repaying.” Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs, said DonorDirect is an essential service in the community.
“People really like the idea that they can get a no-interest loan and pay it back,” Ziemann said. “It is a great thing. It is something every community should have.”
Bartlett and Tullar founded DonorDirect after they realized many people in need would approach them wanting information about where they could turn for help.
“People would come to us and say, ‘Do you know so-and-so, her husband got laid off and they can’t make their rent. Do you know anyone who could help them?'” Bartlett said. “We decided we would start our own [organization] so we could be prepared to help those people when we heard about them.”
For a year after the pair incorporated DonorDirect, Tullar and Bartlett would give people caught in tough situations grants to pay for their rent or other needs. “And then I said, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t we [offer] interest-free loans?'” Bartlett said.
Members of DonorDirect started advertising its services by hanging advertisements around town.
Aron Ralston, the climber who cut off his right hand in Utah after he was trapped by a large boulder, helped get the word out about the organization after he named the group as one of four beneficiaries at an Aspen fundraiser in his honor about three years ago.
“That really gave us a shot in the arm,” Bartlett said.
Then Pitkin and Garfield counties’ human service divisions, along with Catholic Charities, learned of DonorDirect and began referring people in need to the nonprofit. The group has paid out tens of thousands of dollars, but it has been kept afloat by borrowers making their monthly payments, which all flow back into the “Tide Me Over” fund.
“We are having to fundraise a little bit now because we just increased our maximum loan from $1,000 to $1,500,” Bartlett said. “Mostly we don’t have to fundraise because the fund is self-sustaining.”
Out of the group’s 115 loan recipients, two have skipped out on their financial obligations, Bartlett said.
Another 10 or 12 people have missed payments occasionally. Sending notices of missed payments might make the job tougher, but seeing the faces of thankful people who are able to surmount the life challenge with the help of DonorDirect keeps Bartlett and the other eight other board members of the group working to help area families and workers.
“That makes it all worthwhile,” Bartlett said.
For more information or to fill out an application for a loan, go to http://www.tidemeover.org or call the organization at 948-2104.
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