Where: Kapaau, Hawaii County, Hawaii

Problem: The coronavirus pandemic adversely impacted small business owners, entrepreneuers and freelancers. COVID-19 relief options, like federal stimulus checks and loans, were no longer available to many small business owners.

Solution: RCAC’s Re-Emerging Loan Fund (RELieF) provided Leonard with a small business loan and direct technical assistance; the loan was subsequently forgiven.

Hawaii-based advocacy journalist Libby Leonard

Multimedia freelance writer Libby Leonard had just settled into her new role as a travel writer when the coronavirus pandemic sent shockwaves through the travel and journalism industries, freezing tourism and the demand for new travel articles. Journalists were already navigating a gauntlet of challenges, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the decline as new waves of cutbacks, mass layoffs, infections and deaths shook the industry. Meanwhile, self-employed media workers were thrust into a new professional famine with few resources at their disposal.

As COVID-19 surged across the mainland, Leonard had the opportunity to relocate to Hawaii where she established herself as an investigative journalist who specialized in telling local community-centered stories. However, hardships mounted as federal pandemic aid ended and a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan failed to process due to exhaustion of funds.

Leonard eventually learned about and applied to Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s (RCAC) Re-emerging Loan Fund (RELieF) program. RCAC established the fund for small businesses and entrepreneurs in need of low-interest loans to help them adapt to the prolonged hardships of the pandemic while also providing small business coaching expertise to borrowers. The coaching includes a strategic business evaluation tailored to their specific situations to allow them to re-emerge into their marketplaces following pandemic-induced disruptions.

The journalist accepted a $6,500 RELieF loan and attended one-on-one business coaching sessions with RCAC. The loan and technical assistance enabled Leonard to secure other work. One article she wrote for YES! Magazine about education-focused agriculture nonprofit Kahua Pa’a Mua helped open the door to a $70,000 grant to fund their youth program for a year.  A farmer whose sustainable organic farming methods were featured in that same article is now receiving free mulch for life thanks to the exposure, and he plans to kick off a composting business on one of his farms.

RCAC’s Loan Fund department fully forgave the $6,500 loan in March 2022 to allow her the opportunity to fully rebuild and ensure her business’s long-term success.

“To get the help that I needed and receive it through kind people who cared about my progress, who cared about checking in – and wanted me to succeed – made all the difference,” Leonard said. “I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten that experience elsewhere. Thank you, RCAC – for everything that you’ve done.”

Read more:

Flattening the impact – How RCAC’s RELieF program helped sustain a freelance journalist during the pandemic – RCAC