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A Passion for Community Involvement Leads to a New Business
Asylee Builds a Business with Opening Doors' Help, and Then Gives Back
Many of our clients at Opening Doors establish relationships with us and later return to participate in one of our other programs, or to give back as a volunteer. Eugene Stepanov is one client who has done both. To date, he has successfully taken out three loans from our Microenterprise program, steadily growing his notary public and immigrant services business each time. He is also a recent addition to our Prosperity Project Advisory Board. A self-described "socially-active person," Eugene's contributions to both Opening Doors and to Sacramento's immigrant population make him an invaluable member of our community.
Originally born in Russia, Eugene came to the United States with his family in 2006 seeking political asylum. In Russia, Eugene had been persecuted for both his political and his religious views. As part of the Evangelical Christian minority in Russia, Eugene found himself the subject of continual suspicion and harassment for practicing what was perceived to be "American Protestantism." In school his teachers humiliated him for his beliefs, and at work he was paid lower wages than his colleagues. He was continually monitored by the Federal Security Service (FSS), and his congregation was subjected to both political pressure and police harassment. Faced with such persecution, Eugene decided to run for political office, believing that only Christian politicians could be counted on to protect the rights of fellow Christians and prevent the return of Communism to Russia. Eugene's political activities, particularly because they inspired other Evangelical Christians to turn to politics themselves, brought him under increased scrutiny from the FSS and made continuing to stay in Russia dangerous for Eugene and his family.
As an Evangelical minister, Eugene had visited the United States in 2004 and 2006 on a number of speaking engagements. Already having seen a good portion of the United States, he decided that California was the place to come in order to be successful. So in 2006, Eugene brought his family directly to California in the hopes of gaining asylum and finally securing a future free from persecution. While in Russia, Eugene had studied English as a member of the International Christian Interpreters Association, and he had also worked in immigration services, primarily assisting clients who wanted to immigrate to Israel. With this background, in October of 2007, Eugene was hired as a Employment Specialist case manager at the nonprofit, Asian Resources, where he worked with refugees. Through his job, Eugene was brought into contact with partner agencies, such as the Sacramento Employment Training Agency (SETA), and Opening Doors.
A year later, in October 2008, when Eugene was laid off, he made the decision to start his own business. However, the process was not an easy one as Eugene found himself unable to get loans from traditional banks because of his lack of a credit history in the United States. Already knowing about the work we do, Eugene instead turned to Opening Doors in the hopes that we could help him start his own immigration services business. Thus, Eugene's business, called the "Center of Immigration Notary Public and Translation Services," was born.
As a client of Opening Doors, Eugene initially applied for a $3,000.00 loan for a term of 3 years. Thanks to the success of his business, he paid this loan back after only a year. In order to expand his business, Eugene then applied for a $5,000.00 loan, also for a term of 3 years, which he again paid back in a year. In September of 2011, Eugene applied for another loan, this time for $15,000.00, which he was able to use to move his business from his home and into an office. Through his business, Eugene provides all kinds of immigration, notary public, and translation services. His most profitable service is assisting clients who are seeking political asylum; however, Eugene also helps with visas, immigration, power of attorney letters, and translation services.
Currently, most of Eugene's clients are Russian speakers; however, he is interested in working with clients from other ethnic communities. As he continues to improve his business and increase his clients' confidence in his abilities, Eugene is studying to become a certified court translator. He hopes to eventually return to law school and become an attorney specializing in immigration law who works specifically with the Slavic community.
Now a successful businessman himself, Eugene is a recent addition to our Prosperity Project Advisory Board. He is a socially-active person and was happy to join the Board when asked. The Prosperity Project Advisory Board assists Opening Doors in maintaining accountability to Sacramento's low-income and ethnic communities and better understanding how to serve these communities with our financial programs. The members of the Prosperity Project Advisory Board are from the various ethnic communities and geographic regions of the Sacramento area, and through their assistance, Opening Doors is able to help maintain strong ties with the community and their needs, desires, and preferences. The board also assists with outreach, providing community members with information about Prosperity Project programs and loan products, a job Eugene takes to heart. As a client of Opening Doors himself, Eugene in turn recommends us to his clients as well, particularly those interested in job opportunities and in being successful. Eugene believes "no one can limit you but yourself," an attitude and a life's philosophy we are sure will continue to bring him success in the future.