April 7, 2006

Owning a Piece of the Block

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

In plane view, Bevelynn Bravo doesn’t seem like a typical stock investor. She is a 32 -year old Hispanic woman, widower and mother of four. She pays monthly rent and admits that money is tight around the house. She lives in a modest neighborhood and she never went to college. Nonetheless, she along with hundreds of District 4 residents is taking a plunge into the local stock market. Their goal is to own a piece of the block from their neighborhood and after much planning, the proposal is coming to life.

The idea is simple. Allow “Diamond Neighborhood” residents to buy stock from Market Creek Plaza, (Euclid Ave) their local shopping center and an upcoming cultural center on 47th street. As stock holders, they’ll have a say in the look, feel and operation of these businesses; a concept residents have longed for, for the last five years.

“If everything around your neighborhood is ugly,” says Bravo, Community Coordinator at Lincoln Park, then slowly, one starts to feel that same way too. Under this project, we can directly take part in how to run our community.”

Luis Natividad, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) Offering Coordinator and Bevelynn Bravo, JCNI Community Coordinator.

Thus if residents oppose having a liquor store, or cigarette shop at their Market Creek Plaza shopping center, they can say so and ultimately be taken into account as stock holders. Furthermore, if insecurity surfaces within the property, residents can once again voice their concerns and directly strike a change.

“I used to feel stuck,” says Bravo. “There was nothing around my community, no opportunities at all. Now I feel like this can help me have an influence in something.”

The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation was and is key in this transition.

It was there, that residents met on a regular basis to talk about their jobs, community, children and future. Rooted in a deep sense of community, JCNI employees went from door to door inviting people, to simply gather and talk. But while serving as a social setting, it also became a camp ground for community change.

“During a meeting, residents told us they wanted to invest in neighboring business,” says Roque Barros, JCNI Director of Community Building. It had never been done before, but we liked to idea, so we started to investigate how we could make it happen.”

Future investors already had one foot in the door. Their community center, JCNI along with Neighborhood Unity Foundation, owns the company that built Market Creek Plaza Shopping Center. There, one can find a Food 4 Less, Starbucks, Wells Fargo Bank, Business Matters Co, Cold Stone Creamery and Sempra High –Tech Office amongst others. Collectively, millions are spent and inevitably hundreds are hired. However, residents wanted to change who was being hired.

Often, people from other neighborhoods would be employed at the Plaza, thus the money being spent by District 4 residents was leaving their community.

“We want to cooperate within our own community and make it grow,” says Bravo. “That’s hard to do when all your money is going to other parts of the county.”

So in order to change this, only Diamond Neighborhoods including Chollas View, Emerald Hills, North Encanto, South Encanto, Lincoln Park, Mountain View, Mt. Hope, Oak Park, Valencia Park and Webster can invest in the Shopping Center’s stock. But, if a non-resident has contributed to the economic or social development of the community, they become eligible as well.

“If you help in the construction of the shopping center, if you operate a business here, if you volunteer in a local chapter, then you too are eligible,” says Luis Natividad, local politician and JCNI’s Offering Coordinator.

In total, 450 investors will be able to buy stocks from the Market Creek Plaza and the future Cultural Center on Market Street. Each unit is $10, with a minimum purchase of 20 units to participate. With this investment, big or small, residents can partake in how their community businesses are run.

“The beauty is that if you invested $10,000 or $200 one is still a stock holder,” says Natividad. “We will all have a voice, regardless of the amount of money one invested. We will be equal.”

More than a way to gather profits, this project will teach residents, who would have otherwise disregarded the stock market, to learn about investments. Three main goals are outlined. Residents will be proprietors of their neighborhood, they will learn to save and invest and they will come to understand how the stock market works.

“We won’t become rich,” says Natividad. “But our pride will.”

Sons and daughters of future investors, although young, are also learning the ins and outs of the trade.

“I am 32 years old, and I’m barely learning how an investment works,” says Bravo. “But my kids already understand it because they hang around during the community meetings.”

Bravo is a prime example of the fruits that come about with community involvement. Years ago, she was one of the several women who got a knock at their door. Her life changed once she opened it. She met a JCNI representative who urged her to get involved in her community and to invite her neighbors along the way. She accepted, and as time passed, she became a recruiter for local involvement. From picking up trash to cleaning up their yards and voicing their concerns, a solid group was created.

“The center has given me a future,” says Bravo. “I used to live day by day, and now I look forward to what I can offer my children. Before, I would think, how can I offer them a future, if I’m not certain of mine? Now I am.”

The Market Creek Plaza stock share is tentatively set to open on April 15. There will certainly be bumps along the road, yet as Natividad explains it: “It’s a heck of a start.”

For more information on how you can “Own a Piece of the Block” one can contact the JCNI at 619-527-6160.

Return to the Frontpage