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LISC celebrates three years in Charlotte

Ralphine Caldwell
Ralphine Caldwell is the executive director of LISC.

The Charlotte chapter of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, is celebrating its third anniversary this year. Coinciding with the anniversary is an investment of $1.25 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for community development in Charlotte’s West End.

LISC opened its Charlotte office in March 2019 and had three key focuses: empowering people, transforming places and supporting enterprise and driving systems innovation. In three years, LISC has raised and distributed more than $60 million and helped create 1,047 affordable housing units.

Leading the efforts of the organization is Ralphine Caldwell, a native of Laurens, South Carolina. Caldwell says she’s more than proud to have exceeded LISC's goal of raising and distributing $25 million.

“We actually are continuously interacting with the community, whether or not it be a community project or a grassroots organization, we have a direct relationship with those organizations to be able to assist them with carrying out their mission and what they want to see happen in their particular community,” Caldwell said.

For Caldwell, carrying out LISC’s mission is personal. Raised in a rural community with two working parents, Caldwell says she didn’t grow up with a silver spoon. But her upbringing has given her a level of understanding needed to assist communities in need. So, she uses her background as her motivation to serve residents and small businesses in Charlotte.

“I am in this work because I love the fact of being able to assist people and the community with being their best selves,” Caldwell said. “I was taught to just work and work and be able to assist the community in every step of the way. That's why I do this work.”

LISC came to Charlotte for two main reasons: to be the administrator of the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund, a fund established to build affordable housing communities, and to implement a comprehensive community development approach to solving problems. The local presence is part of the larger LISC organization, which was created 40 years ago to provide direct private funding and public resources to communities in need.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, LISC quickly pivoted to begin supporting small businesses, most of which were people-of-color- and woman-owned.

“We wanted to make sure that the businesses were able to thrive even after the pandemic, but particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, “Caldwell said. “So, we changed our approach a little bit to focus on how we can assist the businesses, particularly minority businesses in Charlotte, to remain afloat during the pandemic.”

LISC accomplished this by collaborating with the city of Charlotte to provide $3.9 million in grants to 221 small businesses. Ninety-six percent were owned by people of color, and 69% were owned by women. LISC also gave $447,000 to business development organizations to provide technical assistance and access to capital to over 200 small businesses.

What’s next for LISC? Caldwell says there are plans to use the $1.25 million from the Knight Foundation to reinforce programs, projects and initiatives in the West End. She says $500,000 will be used to establish the Historic West End Commercial Development Fund.

You can access LISC's 2021 Impact Report here.

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Corrected: May 15, 2022 at 9:53 AM EDT
This story originally reported an incorrect amount of money given by LISC to development organizations for technical assistance and access to capital in order to help small businesses. The correct amount is $447,000.
Gracyn Doctor is a Report for America corps member who covers race and equity for WFAE.