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Life After Hard Times

United States, March 12, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mount Burns for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Betty Jo Austin received a loan from Mercy Corps Northwest to start her own home-based apparel sales company. Photo: Mount Burns for Mercy Corps

Before she learned about Mercy Corps Northwest, Betty Jo Austin was living from one payday loan to the next. A former North Portland resident who now lives in Gresham, Austin set out several years ago to start a cosmetology school specializing in African-American hairstyling. She invested her life savings in the school—and when final funding fell through, she was left with nothing.

“I’m a true entrepreneur,” Austin says. “I risked everything on that school.” Unfortunately, in today’s economic landscape, many low-income entrepreneurs find themselves in similar straits.

An acquaintance told Austin about Mercy Corps Northwest’s loan program. When Austin contacted a loan officer, she discovered she qualified for a loan that would help her start a modest new business venture in direct clothing sales.

Since then, with Mercy Corps Northwest’s support, Austin has re-established her credit, purchased inventory, and cleaned up her payday loans. Mercy Corps Northwest also helped her set up an accounting system and develop a strong business plan.

Austin still experiences setbacks with her new business. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing—the first company she sold clothing for went bankrupt. But now she’s working with an international clothing company, running her own home-based apparel sales business, and certainly, with Mercy Corps Northwest’s help, she’s better prepared to face the challenges of being self-employed.

“There is life after hard times!” she exclaims.

Today Austin is just one of more than 1,000 low-income entrepreneurs in Oregon and Washington who have received a needed boost from Mercy Corps Northwest, opening up the possibility for a brighter future.