View this email in your browser


IFF Learning Spaces in Detroit

Urban Sprouts Child Development Center in
St. Louis, MO

Tennyson Senior Living Community in Madison, WI

IFF Staff News: Lieberman promoted, Johnson joins in Indianapolis

Profile: Marcus Scarborough from Honor Capital


Robin Toewe, IFF's Director of Real Estate Services in Minnesota, graduated from the Urban Land Institute's Real Estate Diversity Initiative. The 6-month program was only the second in the nation, and included a real redevelopment proposal for a pro bono client. Congrats, Robin! 


For a proven and tested program, it's time to make a good thing permanent
The Hill

Prepared to learn: why early education is so important for Michigan's children
Model D Media

Joint letter from CDFIs to Congress about Capital Magnet Fund


Tuesday, July 11
Press Conference:
The Hatchery
Chicago, IL 

Wednesday, July 12
Ribbon Cutting:
IFF Access Housing
Logan Square
Chicago, IL 

Thursday, July 13 
Urban Land Institute
Panel: Building a Local
Food Economy
Chicago, IL

Sunday, July 23 to
Tuesday, July 25 

2017 Michigan Primary
Care Annual Conference 
Acme, MI 

Learning Spaces: IFF marks 1-year anniversary of program by scaling up to help more early education providers in Detroit

High-quality early education providers in Detroit often struggle with pressing facilities challenges. Renovated classrooms, more efficient lighting, upgraded heating/cooling, better security, new playgrounds – these all contribute to high-quality facilities for young children to learn and grow. But tackling facility repairs and renovations can be overwhelming for smaller providers that have few staff, small budgets, and little time to request grant funding.

That’s why IFF teamed up with The Kresge Foundation to offer two innovative solutions to help early education providers: (1) subsidize facility assessments that work with providers to evaluate a broad range of facilities improvements, and (2) grant awards to help pay for identified repairs and upgrades and plan for future improvements.

The program is called Learning Spaces, and it launched one year ago this month. Since then, IFF has provided grants totaling $150,000 to 10 facilities serving a total of 631 children. With renewed funding from The Kresge Foundation, IFF is now scaling the program with larger grant awards for more providers – up to $20,000 in grant support for repairs and upgrades at high-quality early education centers in Detroit and larger grants for extensive improvements to center-based environments.

Potential grantees are invited to attend a Provider Engagement Meeting to learn more about facility quality and the collaborative efforts in Detroit to improve early child care and education. The next Provider Engagement Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 25th, at Marygrove College. Details are posted to

Here’s a look back at some accomplishments from the first year of the program:

Greater Sonora Early Learning Prep: Cynthia Martin first applied to Learning Spaces to acquire some new playground equipment for the 25-year-old early childhood learning center she runs on the east side of Detroit. But after working with IFF to assess the center and discuss a variety of program needs, IFF and Martin decided to focus investment on indoor lighting.

According to IFF Director of Childhood Services Monica Duncan, indoor lighting is critical to creating a conducive learning environment. Indirect and incandescent lights are the best artificial option for creating spaces where kids feel comfortable playing, whereas harsh fluorescent lights can make classrooms feel like hospitals or offices. And dimmer switches allow lighting to be adjusted more gradually and naturally as children transition from play time to nap time.

These were among the upgrades installed at Early Learning Prep, and the parents noticed right away.
“The best part is the domino effect,” Martin says. “We made these improvements, which we hope leads to better scores and more families served. That, in turn, can lead to increased funding for other improvements – for example, I still want my playground!”

According to Duncan, one goal of Learning Spaces is to help providers prioritize facility improvements so they can achieve pressing upgrades as well as realize long-term objectives, such as the playground equipment.

Early Learning Prep already has a 4-star rating (out of a possible 5 stars) from Michigan’s Great Start to Quality Program. It is a year-round, extended-day facility serving approximately 50 children annually.

Blessed Beginnings Learning Center: This 5-star rated home-based provider serves Early Head Start children on Detroit’s east side. Owner/director LaShawn Bridges has been running this facility successfully for 18 years, but saving for big-ticket upgrades was difficult with a smaller-scale program of only six participants. Her request to Learning Spaces was straight-forward and, based on the follow-up assessment with IFF, spot-on: Blessed Beginnings wanted to make safety upgrades.

First, a new egress window was installed in the basement facility. Second, some carpeting was ripped and patched in many places, causing tripping hazards, so new high-impact flooring was installed. Finally, new lighting helped the facility meet some early education best practices.

“Our parents love the changes – they say the places seems not only brighter, but bigger,” Bridges says. “And because the grant paid for these safety changes, we were able to spend some of our savings on playground equipment. The neighborhood park is not always clean or safe, so having a secure place for the kids to play outdoors really means a lot to us.”

Michigan Technical Academy: This 4-star rated early childhood center leases space from a charter school in Detroit’s west side. The children share a spacious and well-equipped outdoor play area – with one major safety concern.

“The playground opens up into a large parking lot, and it causes a lot of stress for staff,” says Marion Edwards, the academy’s Pre-K Director. “These are very young children, and they will run after a ball without thinking. We always remain vigilant, but we knew a fence would go a long way toward keeping the kids safer.”

A grant from Learning Spaces funded the installation of new fencing – as well as a 9-foot radius of wood chips to replace the blacktop pavement. There are 54 pre-k children who use the playground, and up to 500 kids from the entire charter school use the space as well. 

See for more information.

New early education center provides only mixed-income, Reggio Emilia approach new St. Louis

Urban Sprouts Child Development Center doesn’t look like a typical daycare facility – and that’s because it’s not.

“This is not daycare. This is education,” says Steve Stenger, the St. Louis County Executive, whose office is providing full scholarships for 70 students. “The statistics are startling for the difference this space will make in children’s lives.”

According to the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a child without an early childhood education is 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teenage parent, 60 percent more likely to never attend college, and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Early childhood education is for kids ages 3-6.

Urban Sprouts provides the only mixed-income Reggio Emilia model for early education in Missouri and has expanded to accommodate 135 students – almost double the previous number. The Center’s new facility also expands access to subsidized child care from 35 children to 75 children within a Federal Promise Zone and a New Markets Tax Credits highly distressed census tract.

“There’s a social justice issue here,” says IFF’s David Desai-Ramirez, executive director of IFF’s St. Louis office. “There are thousands and thousands of kids that still don’t have access to this. We can’t stop. We have to have a sense of urgency. We have to keep going.”

The state-of-the-art center includes learning studios, water rooms, light and shadow rooms, a clay and kiln-firing room, three large classrooms (one each for infants, toddlers, and pre-kindergartners), and a piazza where children, teachers, and parents can gather and learn. These spaces were designed to support the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood learning, which emphasizes natural curiosity of children as well as the importance of an open learning environment that helps to promote collaboration.

At the June 8 ribbon-cutting ceremony, several speakers emphasized the collaborative nature of the project, which involved corporate and foundation partners, community development financial institutions, private investors, county funding, and support from local architects and civic leaders. IFF provided a $2 million allocation of New Market Tax Credits toward the project as well as extensive real estate consulting on the 15,000-square-foot build-out of a former spice factory.

“Pulling together the long financial documents was probably the toughest thing I’ve done,” says Ellicia Qualls, founder and executive director of Urban Sprouts. “Borrowing $2.5 million and raising $250,000 to make this project work has not been an easy feat. IFF held my feet to the fire, and I really thank them for that challenge.”

“We are so proud to have led the financing and development of Urban Sprouts. This has been such a great, all-hands-on-deck community effort that would not have been possible without deep contributions by so many great individuals and organizations,” Desai-Ramirez says. “IFF got its start helping nonprofits to plan, build, and finance high-quality early childhood facilities. Helping make this new center a reality for the University City community takes us back to our roots and represents some of the most important work we do.”

New development to close gap in Dane County senior housing shortage

A new senior living community will provide high-quality, service-supported senior housing to the most densely populated area of seniors in Dane County, WI. Tennyson Senior Living Community, opening in summer 2018, will create 60 units of housing on Madison’s northeast side.

The development will feature 24 units of assisted living care and 36 units of memory care. One highlight is the accessible warm water therapy pool – only the second one in the City of Madison. Residents will also have access to large private dining and family areas, an outdoor terrace, a chapel and meditation space, a convenience store, and a library and computer room. In addition, the building will have a café and bakery that is open to the public.

The site for this development was chosen through a 2016 market study that showed that over 40 percent of the area’s senior population earns less than $35,000 annually and that the community had a shortage of 1,500 units for independent and assisted senior living. 

IFF provided a $500,000 loan toward the project, which is managed by Independent Living, Inc. (ILI) – an organization that owns and operates four other Madison-area senior living facilities. ILI focuses on providing services that seniors often lack, like transportation, financial management, counseling, and Meals on Wheels.

IFF Staff News: Lieberman promoted to Senior Vice President for Capital Solutions; Johnson hired as Director of Lending in Indianapolis

IFF has promoted Dana Lieberman to Senior Vice President for Capital Solutions, a position that provides broad, executive-level oversight of the organization’s regional nonprofit financing program. She manages a team of 25+ professionals working in loan origination, portfolio management, and structured finance across IFF’s footprint in the Midwest. 

Ms. Lieberman joined IFF in 2012 as Director of Compliance and Investor Programs, responsible for managing and coordinating IFF’s investor relationships, compliance initiatives, and New Markets Tax Credits-related activities. She was promoted in 2013 to Managing Director of Lending, with responsibilities for the leadership and management of the loan origination program and staff across IFF’s footprint. 

Prior to joining IFF, Ms. Lieberman was Chief Operating Officer of a social enterprise bakery and transitional jobs training program affiliated with a Chicago social service agency. She began her career in commercial banking and spent 13 years with LaSalle Bank and Bank of America in Chicago.

She received her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and earned a B.S. in Finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She serves on the Loan Committee and Community Advisory Committee for Partners for the Common Good, a community development financial institution based in D.C.


Nicholas Johnson was hired as IFF’s Director of Lending in Indianapolis, responsible for leading IFF’s lending activities throughout Indiana as well as metro Louisville. Mr. Johnson will lead business development and loan structuring for the market, as well as collaborate with IFF’s Indiana-based real estate consulting team. 

Mr. Johnson was most recently a program officer for LISC – Indianapolis, where he oversaw lending activities citywide for a variety of development projects as well as neighborhood resources and catalyst projects in the Near-West and Near-Eastside. He has more than 13 years of experience in economic development, business development, finance, and both site selection and site development, having served in several public, private, and nonprofit positions in Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas. 

In the community, Mr. Johnson supports the YMCA and the Community Development Advisory Committee for the Purdue Extension of Marion County. Additionally, he works with the Environmental Law Society and the Black Law Student Association at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Mr. Johnson served in the U.S. Army for 4 years before being honorably discharged with several medals and commendations. He earned his B.A. and M.P.A. from Texas State University, and he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy from Southern University/A&M College at Baton Rouge and a J.D./M.B.A. from Indiana University Indianapolis. Through the National Development Council, Mr. Johnson is also a certified community development finance professional.

Profile: Marcus Scarborough, Vice President for Community Engagement and Marketing for Honor Capital 

Marcus Scarborough went from a nuclear submarine to a marketing office to on-the-ground community engagement – but the common thread was always service to his country. He is now the Vice President for Community Engagement and Marketing for Honor Capital, a Veteran-owned business that raises capital to bring grocery stores to food deserts across America. IFF is one of three CDFIs jointly financing the rehabilitation and build-out of nine grocery stores under Honor Capital’s leadership. IFF’s $1.7 million loan to Honor Capital was made possible through IFF’s New Markets Tax Credits Loan Pool and is directly linked to the financing needs of stores in Wichita and Winnfield, KS.

Six of Honor Capital’s eight employees are post-9/11 veterans like Mr. Scarborough, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006 and served as a Navy Nuclear Power Officer on Ballistic Missile Submarines for 4 years. Later, he entered USAA’s prestigious Junior Military Officer Career Development Program, designed to enhance leadership lessons from the military by placing former military officers into roles of high responsibility – “leadership from the Battlefield to the Boardroom.” At USAA, Mr. Scarborough led some of the company’s most visible programs in several lines of business, including Human Resources and Marketing, for over 3 years.

At Honor Capital, Mr. Scarborough works closely with community leaders to identify areas in need of convenient, affordable access to fresh food. He led the opening of Honor Capital’s first Save-A-Lot store located in South Carolina.

1. How did this group of people come together to form Honor Capital, and what was the genesis of the idea?

Around 2013, some of us were just transitioning out of the military. Others had already transitioned out and had started to establish our civilian careers. We started talking about what kind of company we might want to form – what our mission would be, and what problems we wanted to go out there and solve. We knew we wanted to focus on the Veteran aspect of our company – trying to further the ability of Veterans to lead and to be business owners in their own communities, starting with ourselves.

At one point, we were looking into affordable housing, and we were starting to see how food deserts affect so many communities. By happy coincidence, we were then approached by one of Jim’s former business partners about opening a Save-A-Lot in St. Croix – the Virgin Islands, of all places. Here we have this small-format, discount grocery store that is geared toward smaller, lower-income communities. Big box stores are purposefully avoiding these markets, either because the population density is too small or the average median income is too low. We saw this perfect match of the kind of problem we wanted to solve – food deserts across the country with no national-scale, economically-sustainable model to fix it – and the Save-a-Lot model that might be a solution.

It took about 2 years from first talking about the company until opening our first store. As far as we know, still to this day, we are one of the only national-geared, economically-sustainable programs out there to tackle food deserts. We do see co-ops and farmers markets that come along, but many of those efforts are dependent upon volunteers and grant money to be sustainable, whereas we are taking on commercial loans and running like a business.

2. How does Honor Capital’s focus on food deserts fit into its concept of ‘honor villages’?

Our ideal state of being is to build communities. We know if we combine food access and affordable housing along with community services such as education, community centers, and health services, we could build whole, fulfilling communities that allow folks to achieve more and not be stuck in a cycle of disinvestment.

All throughout the country, you see parts of town where a big bulk of low-income communities have poor access to food, causing poor health outcomes for their children, causing inabilities to achieve or strive or find suitable work. If your health is at risk, or you’re facing childhood obesity, it limits your opportunities and your chances to make it out of the cycle of poverty.

We have lived this every day. Our first store is located in Columbia, SC, in a low-income, affordable-housing neighborhood. I am originally from this area, and I knew to avoid this part of town growing up because you might get hit with a stray bullet. It looked kinda like that neighborhoods on The Wire – barracks-style housing with lots of clothes lines strung between windows. But fast forward almost two decades later, and after becoming a Hope VI community, now the area is all mixed-income housing, has a community center, nice gym with a whole host of classes for the community, community credit union, health clinic – and you have us, a grocery store. We got to see this transformation from a very anecdotal, very personal level.

3. What is the biggest challenge to developing grocery stores in food deserts, and how is Honor Capital overcoming them?

These stores are hard to run. Retail in general is contracting in the United States, and food retail specifically has even more razor-thin margins – literally 1-2% net profit margin.

Within the last year, we’ve seen a trend of what I call the “death of the middle-tier grocers.” As prices drop and margins shrink in an already-low-margin business, a lot of middle-of-the-road grocers are closing. And at the same time, a lot more stores are opening as either a higher-end model like Whole Foods or an affordable model like Save-a-Lot. All the sudden you look at a map, and you see the grocery stores are no longer concentrated in lower middle-income areas. 

We’re really good at is executing the small-format, discount grocery model program as put together by Save-a-Lot. We fit into that niche market, and we execute it well. That’s one thing about being a bunch of military guys – when we first started out, we didn’t know anything about grocery store operations, but we did have a background in executing the mission, and that’s what Save-a-Lot gave us guided by Honor Capital's philosophy in serving communities in need of convenient access to fresh food.

4. Ten years from now, what do you hope to see changed in the communities served by those stores?

First, at the high level, there’s transforming the community. I think each community is a little different with respect to what it means to really grow and prosper. What we’ve seen is that the fastest way to transform community is by putting in a grocery store for folks who don’t have one. We’ve seen that time and time again. If we are an anchor tenant in a once-vacant plaza, all the sudden you see more and more stores dotting that plaza – and a lot of contingent leases from others that say ‘if you can get a grocery store here, we’ll move in too.’ Each place we move in, we see not only cities invest more, but also the community and business owners coming in to restore faith and credibility to an area.

Second, there’s the more literal level of how many thousands of pounds of fresh produce and fresh meat we’re selling each week – where before there was none. Pretty much all of our stores are in USDA-qualified food deserts or low income census tracts. We’re bringing convenient access to fresh, affordable food and ending that cycle of the health outcomes associated with eating mostly high-carb, high-preservative, high-sodium foods. We may not have the ability – yet – to quantify exactly how we’re impacting health outcomes, or graduation rates, or even crime rates in our neighborhoods, but we do know that, on average, about 3,600-4,000 customers purchase about 16,000 pounds of meat and produce from each of our stores each week.

5. How did you transition from working on a nuclear submarine to working in a marketing office to being an entrepreneur and community development professional – and what advice would you give other veterans going through career transitions?

It takes time. It takes a leap of faith. It takes tenacity. It takes discipline.

I was probably the first one to “jump ship” from corporate job to go full-time into the stores. It was scary, for sure. I literally quit my job on February 1st, and our store opened on May 1st. It was definitely a totally different world. We did our best, we learned lessons along the way, we got beat up a bit. We took our bruises and became better for it.

I think a key for us was a lot of networking. We were told “no” so many times by so many different people. We had to keep reinventing ourselves and revising our plans. We literally thought: “What other people are trying to help communities become better?” And then we simply called up community development entities, went to conferences, asked for introductions, and asked a lot of questions. Then we finally ran across CDFIs – we wished we had heard of them about a year sooner because that was our first foot in the door with what we were trying to do. South Carolina Community Loan Fund was the first CDFI that financed us and took a chance on us.

Two years ago, banks wouldn’t even return our calls. Now we’re doing a $9 million New Markets Tax Credits deal with three CDFIs – IFF, Enterprise Community Loan Fund, and Reinvestment Fund – and opening seven more stores. That was the product of a lot of networking, a lot of tenacity, and a lot of flexibility in being able to make changes to our plans while also staying true to our mission.

It’s been a journey. It wasn’t always easy. It’s still not easy. We’re still learning along the way.
Copyright © 2022 IFF, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences