Lehigh Valley

Program gives Lehigh students hands-on lesson in community development lending

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A partnership between Lehigh University and The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund will involve an investment in local microenterprises.

Lehigh University officials and students joined representatives of The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund in announcing the $250,000 investment on Monday. The news conference took place at Hammer Training and Fitness Gym in Allentown, the first business approved for a loan made possible by the new fund.

Two Lehigh University seniors will learn community development lending by making loans from the university's investment.

"The students get complete immersion and hands-on experience in every aspect of community lending - the highs, lows, warts and all," said Todd Watkins, executive director of the Baker Institute and director of Lehigh University's microfinance programs, who also serves as president of The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund's board of directors. "Just as consequentially, more entrepreneurs in our region will have access to capital. Because they are start-ups or have other challenges, traditional sources of loans are not accessible. We give them the chance to pursue their dreams, grow businesses and create jobs."

Dale Kochard, assistant vice president of community and regional affairs at Lehigh, said the university's investment in the community creates an opportunity for students to apply their education in a practical way.

"Their experience is also a broader community service, as it truly benefits both our community and our students," Kochard said. "We have an opportunity to extend the impact of the loan fund while providing distinctive experiences that our students will carry into their lives as they create positive change beyond Lehigh."

The students analyze the merits of loan applications and present them to a committee of The Rising Tide's board of directors for approval, said officials, noting that the money can be used for equipment, marketing costs, inventory, working capital and lease-hold improvements.

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