CASH loan offers a new beginning

"It's a beautiful beginning for Carrie Rivers. The Brownsville resident is a recent recipient of a $500 Washington Community Alliance for Self Help (CASH) loan and she has used the money to buy a computer to start a wedding planning business - Beautiful Beginnings Wedding Consultation. Rivers taught preschool and after-school kindergarten for several years, but when she had her three sons she wanted to stay home to raise them. She hopes her new business will help achieve that goal.Being able to be with my boys during the day and being able to raise them myself - not having somebody else do it - is part of it, Rivers said. Rivers has planned weddings for years for family and friends, and enjoys helping the bride and groom enjoy their big day. She will do everything for weddings from beginning to end, including helping couples select a venue, booking a D.J. or a band, purchasing flowers and selecting a caterer. Rivers completed the free mandatory six-week CASH training course and wrote a business plan. She learned about market research, feasibility studies, record keeping and a host of other business terms.I found a flyer (for the CASH program) while I was in the process of laboring over my own business plan, Rivers said. It was difficult and I wasn't understanding the terms for what they wanted. This was ideal for me.After completing business class, students were divided into small business groups. Rivers presentated her proposal to her business group and members voted to approve her for the first loan. Other group members are eligible for loans after Rivers makes the first two payments on her loan - which should take about four weeks.Rivers' loan has a 9 percent interest rate and must be repaid within 6 months. Rivers pays $39.50 every two weeks to the treasurer of her business group at their regular meetings. The groups are designed as a kind of support group at which entrepreneurs can discuss problems, seek advice and set goals. Groups occasionally host speakers on topics of common interest.When Rivers has payed back the $500, she will be eligible to qualify for other CASH loans of $1,000, $1,500, $3,000 or $5,000. She plans to take out another loan soon, but she has not decided if it will be through CASH or another lender.My husband and I are deciding right now whether to do a micro-loan or whether to take out a loan from a commercial bank. The advantage would be I could cover all my start-up costs without having to wait, Rivers said.She plans to purchase a digital camera and a video recorder with her next loan. She wants to take photos of area wedding venues, including churches, homes and parks, and catalogue them on her computer to show clients. She also plans to videotape ceremonies at a charge of $2,500 per wedding.She wants to use profits from the business to save for her childrens' education. Her sons are 5, 3 and 1 years old.One of the best parts is knowing I'm saving money for my boys for college, Rivers said. My husband's job provides for us but I want them to be able to go to school anywhere they want.Her biggest challenge is going to be reaching her target market group, she said, but she is researching the best methods of advertising.Washington CASH first offered business training and micro-loans locally last fall. The non-profit Seattle-based company is dedicated to helping qualifying members -mostly women - start small businesses. The company works with local governments and is funded by federal Community Development Block Grants.To contact Beautiful Beginnings, call 307-9183. "

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