LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arlo Washington is the founder, CEO and president of PEOPLE Trust Loan Fund, a non-profit that helps small businesses in low-income communities.
Growing up in Little Rock, Washington was no stranger to poverty. He says generational poverty is a mentality.
When his mom passed away when he was 17, leaving him to be the man of the house for his two little sisters, Washington didn’t let the challenges change that mindset.
His efforts to make a difference for his family and others began in 2000, with him using his barbering skills.
“I started cutting hair when I was 19 years old,” Washington recalled. “I barbered for two years and then I opened my own barbershop. “
He opened his first barbershop with a student loan he received while attending UA-Little Rock, noting that this was his first real experience with loans and the financial system.
At that time, Washington said he was in a disadvantaged position because of no financial education. Over time, he grew his knowledge, and that loan from UALR led to him opening four barbershops and employing as many as 27 people.
Continuing this cycle, he used the funds from the barbershops to launch the Washington Barber College located on West 65th Street in Little Rock.
The school started in 2008, but at that time, there was no financial aid available, so students had to pay out of their own pockets. Two years after opening, though, the barber school became accredited through the Council on Occupational Education and certified by the Department of Education.
The school eventually helped organize Pell Grants and student loans for low-income students. Remembering his own money management challenges, Washington started teaching his students about finance.
Eventually, this resonated to educating and providing loans to the community with “PEOPLE Trust,” which started as a nonprofit.
“At that point in 2016, we had done enough lending where we could make an application to the Department of Treasury CDFI Fund,” Washington explained.
According to Washington, the CDFI, or Community Development Financial Institutions, Fund plays an important role in generating economic growth and opportunity in some of our nation’s most distressed communities.
By offering tailored resources and innovative programs that invest federal dollars alongside private sector capital, the CDFI Fund serves mission-driven financial institutions that take a market-based approach to support economically disadvantaged communities.
PEOPLE Trust was certified by the CDFI in 2016. Washington says his proudest moment through it all was finally being able to walk into the PEOPLE Trust building.
Now, the organization has over 5,000 customers and has provided loans for over 2,600 small businesses. Currently, there is just one barbershop – the Ivy League Barber Shop located on North Bowman Road. The Washington Barber College is headed into its 15th year.
This year, PEOPLE’s Trust is launching its Gold & Loan program to help provide credit collateral as another way working-class citizens can create wealth for themselves and generations to come.