NAYA distributes $1M to area businesses

NAYA distributes $1M to area businesses

Gloria Gonzalez was two years into a five-year lease on a studio space for her business Vida Massage when the pandemic hit. Her storefront shuttered for 18 weeks before reopening, and even then, things were slow and the number of clients would ebb and flow. Gonzalez was unsure how she’d survive—until NAYA called with an opportunity for much-needed funds. 

“Because I was able to use these funds towards my rent and PPE, I was also able to begin paying my mortgage from my income again, which was a huge relief,” Gonzalez said.

Native entrepreneurs and people of color have experienced the greatest impact from the pandemic. Working side-by-side with the Oregon Native American Chamber, NAYA has distributed over $1 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act—also known as the CARES Act—funds to 114 businesses through its COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program.

“Simply put, in many cases these funds have helped save entrepreneurs from closing their businesses,” said Matt Faunt, NAYA’s Cully business development coordinator. “The funds allow folks to pay rent, put food on their family’s table, and cover real expenses that otherwise could have gone unpaid. In many cases, business owners have been able to use the funds to invest in new strategies to pivot their businesses and adapt to a changing economy.”

NAYA has a long-standing partnership with Prosper Portland, Multnomah County, and the Oregon Community Foundation, so when the CARES funds landed locally, these partners looked to us for reaching out to the Native business community, and merchants in the Cully neighborhood and elsewhere in the city. In applying to dole out the money, equity was kept at the forefront. Our clients being among the most affected during 2020 and this year meant they needed the most support. Out of everyone who sought out assistance through this project, nearly half self-identified as Native American/Indigenous while more than 80 percent were people of color. 

Applying recipients shared heartbreaking stories for seeking out the hand up. Many of them cited having to restructure their traditional day-to-day business operations due to fewer people visiting their storefronts or buying products, and needing resources to shift their professional plans and stay afloat. NAYA stepped up—we hit the $1 million-mark in distributed funds by mid-May 2021.

Gonzalez shared with NAYA that the weeks she spent unable to go hands-on with clients made her think about how she could serve them from afar. She resiliently reacted by creating a line of bath salts that will soon be available to buy online and at her studio. She also is working on a series of short educational videos that will teach clients proper stretching techniques to practice in between massage therapy sessions.

Michelle Week, Sxʷk̓ʷanɬqm (farmer) and founder of x̌ast sq̓it/Good Rain Farm, used the money received through NAYA to buy protective equipment for employees and customers, and to invest in added safety communications. The business also started offering home delivery, to keep its most vulnerable customers as safe as possible.

The funds helped Week’s business weather additional operational costs and better support the community’s access to fresh, local food during prolonged lockdowns. Without the help, the budding small business, only three years old, would have lost money and suffered a huge blow over the past year. “Supporting us not only helped create and sustain additional employment opportunities during a time that several businesses were shutting down and laying folks off, it also helped us deliver nutrient-dense, healthy foods to our community when they needed it most to both support them in preventive measures such as quarantining to reduce exposure to COVID and to nourish their bodies that supports a strong and healthy immune system,” she said.

Rebecca Smith, Muscogee Creek, runs Ice Queen, a female-owned, plant-based ice cream shop in Southeast Portland. She was able to keep her business afloat for some time, transitioning from selling at city markets to opening an in-the-works storefront on Stark Street a year ago. Still, as the pandemic lengthened, she felt she was missing opportunities for her growing business. She wanted more control, and with NAYA’s aid, she used grant money to do just that. She was able to budget food costs and keep her inventory stocked, as well as buy two freezers. “It absolutely helped me out. It was a lifeline. When you go from doing storefronts to having a store, you don’t really know how to do everything right away. With the grant money on hand, I was able to learn a lot,” Smith said.

While the initial disbursements of CARES funds have been fully given out, NAYA’s  Economic Development Team continues working toward expanding wealth-building opportunities. Talks of expanding this specific program are in the works.