Mareli Demarchi Flores, owner of Framboyant Learning Center in McAllen, embodies the American Dream. She grew up in Jaragua Do Sul– a small farming town in Brazil– where she dreamed of becoming a teacher in America. According to Mareli, everyone in her hometown pulled together as a community.
As a teen, Mareli taught local preschool children, before she left home to attend college and earn a degree in psychology. She permanently immigrated to the United States in 1992, and eventually met and married a talented engineer, Aurelio Flores – an immigrant from Mexico. The couple moved to McAllen and combined their engineering and psychology expertise and passion for education to open Framboyant Learning Center— a Montessori-style preschool— for children ages 18 months to five years old, in 1997.
“Aurelio knows more about business than me,” Mareli said. “I’m more like the dreamer with ideas.”
Framboyant Learning Center began as a home-based operation, with Mareli teaching just a handful of children from the couple’s north-McAllen home. She hired a small staff within the school’s first four years, and in 2001, she leased a building in south McAllen, allowing her to take in more students. However, when the center hit capacity at 75 students in 2011, the couple purchased a one-acre tract of land and built a new school location at Buddy Owens Blvd.
Aurelio and Mareli worked with the Small Business Development Center at UT-RGV, where they found help with market research analysis and a business plan, but they needed capital to expand the center. Despite their good credit rating, they were unable to secure loans from local banks, so in 2013, the SBDC directed them to LiftFund for alternative financing options.
LiftFund, a non-profit micro lender, provides credit and finance education services to small businesses and entrepreneurs who cannot access traditional loans from commercial sources. As a designated community development financial institution (CDFI), LiftFund helps small business owners access credit, create and sustain jobs, and stabilize communities across 13 states.
Since 1998, LiftFund-McAllen has provided more than 1,900 loans, totaling nearly $22 million, to start-ups and small businesses like Framboyant Learning Center. Loans can range between $500 and $250,000, and can be used to purchase business-related inventory, equipment, real estate, vehicles, or used as working capital.
Framboyant Learning Center acquired three loans—totaling $230,000– through LiftFund-McAllen between 2013 and 2018. The couple used the funds to consolidate loans, build an awning for the school playground, renovate and upgrade the kitchen, and hire five additional staff members. Today, Framboyant has nearly 130 students enrolled at its campus, with a 200-student capacity.
“Framboyant Learning Center has gone from renting to owning their own building,” said LiftFund-McAllen Senior Business Development Officer, Marlene Rodriguez. ”It’s the kind of story that’s very rewarding for us when we see that working hand in hand with those clients, seeing them create jobs, and helping our community comes to fruition.”
The LiftFund-McAllen team also helps entrepreneurs navigate various business ownership challenges – from improving credit scores, to learning about financing options and payroll compliance, to marketing, and more.
“I would recommend LiftFund-McAllen to other businesses because they’re very professional,” Aurelio said. “They’re very knowledgeable. They worked hard to find ways of getting things done. They treated us with respect and I think they’re doing a wonderful service for McAllen.”
To learn how LiftFund-McAllen can help your small business, visit www.mcallen.liftfund.com, or call us at 1-888-215-2373.