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Mendota’s Meza Family Shines Light on the Possibilities for Rural Businesses

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Jonathan Meza’s family owns and manages several businesses in Mendota, but the journey to entrepreneurship hasn’t always been easy.

“My parents migrated to the United States in the late 90s, early 2000s. They did farm labor work for a long time,” said Meza. “However, they have had the entrepreneurial mindset forever, I guess. They used to sell things with their friends, like blankets, curtains, things like that until we started DJ-ing.”

Soon, the Meza family started their own party rental business, and now own a thrift store, gym, and Mexican ice-cream parlor. In addition, they recently finished building Mendota’s first car wash in almost 20 years with help from the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation.

“My parents are super happy. They never imagined being here, coming from small towns in Mexico to now owning businesses here in the United States,” said Meza. “We’re blessed to be able to help our families and at the same time bring opportunity to the city of Mendota.”

Meza Family Struggles With Pandemic Challenges

Like many other small business owners affected by the pandemic, the Meza family had trouble finding financing to help complete the Oasis Express Car Wash, which is self-service.

Construction slowed as many businesses were ordered to shut down, income from other businesses was no longer there to support expanding ventures and, with supply chain issues, building materials would take months to arrive, making the project challenging to finish,  Meza said.

“Financially, it came out double to what we had budgeted, and then we got hit with COVID,” said Meza. “So at that point, we didn’t know what to do.”

The Mezas had to sell one of their businesses to continue building the car wash and sought financial help from FAHF by applying for a loan to purchase carwash equipment.

FAHF Helps Businesses in Rural Communities

Meza, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Fresno State in 2017, had met with the foundation as a student.

“They helped out a business club that I was in. We would do different events there, so after I graduated, I kept in touch with some of my friends and colleagues that still work there,” said Meza.

Later, Meza met FAHF representatives through an outreach event in Mendota.

“They came out here giving financial help through COVID, and that’s when the conversation arose, and we talked about my project and decided that they were able to help us.”

Efrain Cruz, who is FAHF’s business loan officer, took part in helping the Meza family complete the carwash.

“In the case of the Meza family, something that affected their carwash business during the pandemic was like many other businesses in the sense that many businesses were not receiving the equipment that they needed on time,” said Cruz.

“We understood that was not something that they could control and so we were able to help them defer some of the payments they had to make.”

Hispanic, Rural Business Owners Struggle Launching or Keeping a Business

FAHF’s mission is to help entrepreneurs in Fresno and outlying rural communities by giving them the skills to run a successful business.

“A lot of the other borrowers or applicants that we have, they don’t know how to fill out those financial statements,” said Cruz.

According to Cruz, many rural business owners are hesitant to ask for help. Others struggle to overcome language, education, and technology challenges.

Sometimes, the would-be entrepreneurs come in with a dream, but no business idea or a plan to get it off the ground, says Cruz.

“They just have this idea of, oh, I know how to cook. I have the recipe and it’s going to be successful. But they don’t know all the other requirements,” said Cruz. “That’s why the foundation is so, so, so special and important. We’re able to help those people.”

In addition, Cruz says that first-time business owners can have a hard time getting a loan out from a local bank. That’s because the loan officers want the businesses to demonstrate they’re well established.

Banks are also less likely to educate business owners on how to correctly fill out forms, says Cruz.

Confia Program Helps Rural Business Owners Find Confidence

To combat some of these challenges, specifically in Hispanic and rural communities, FAHF recently launched a new program, titled Confia, meaning “trust” in Spanish.

Overseeing the effort is FAHF’s David Preciado, who says the program is targeted at rural towns like Mendota, Sanger, Lemoore, and Coalinga.

“Confia is a rural community program about financial literacy and what we are looking for is a way to empower our rural communities because we know that many rural areas need help,” said Preciado.

“The foundation here in Fresno helps the entire Valley, but we asked ourselves how we would be able to take our programs, our services, and information to families and children. We want and are convinced that through this program many will be able to make decisions that will empower them.”

The program teaches how to obtain a credit card, apply for an auto loan, buy a house, and start a business. It also informs parents on how their kids can go to college.

The foundation launched the Confia program a few weeks ago at the AMOR Wellness Center in Mendota.

Liz Juarez joined GV Wire in July, 2021 as a Digital News Producer. She has experience working for publications around the Central Valley including the Clovis Roundup, Porterville Recorder and Hanford Sentinel. While in college, she interned for Mountain West Athletics and served as Outreach Chair for the Fresno State Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Liz earned a bachelor's degree in Media Communications and Journalism at Fresno State and a master's degree in Communications from Arizona State University. In her down time, she enjoys reading, drawing and staying active by playing basketball, taking trips to the coast and visiting national parks. You can contact Liz at liz.juarez@gvwire.com