Author Archives: Symone Jackson


2017 Summer Fellowship Program

After screening a large pool of applications and conducting many interviews, we chose highly skilled individuals whose passion for economic justice and environmental sustainability matched the vision and goals of Beneficial State.  We are thrilled to have six exceptional individuals join us for the summer.  Check out their bios below.  For more information on the program click here or contact Maritessa Bravo Ares, Senior Community Engagement Officer at

The 2017 Beneficial Banking Fellows celebrating a successful first week at Beneficial State with Co-Founder and Co-CEO Kat Taylor.


Alex Gustafson
Project Focus: Community Engagement – Santa Rosa and Sonoma County
Branch: Santa Rosa and Oakland
Hometown: Sonoma, CA
Education: UC Berkeley – Economics and Media Studies (expected May 2019)

Alex is a Junior studying Economics and Media Studies at UC Berkeley.  Alex was born and raised in the city of Sonoma and is excited to be working in the same county where he grew up.  He is the Chairman of the club WriterCoach Connection which recruits volunteers to help tutor Middle and High School students in the Berkeley area.  He enjoys tutoring through the club and visiting the Boys and Girls Club of Oakland with his fraternity brothers.  Alex enjoys playing basketball, traveling, and cooking in his free time and is a huge Cal sports fan.  He plans on pursuing graduate school in the future and is excited to be a part of the Beneficial State family!


Fiona Ruddy
Project Focus: Movement Building, Policy and Strategic Communications 
Branch: Oakland
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Education: UC Berkeley – Dual Master’s Degrees in City Planning and Public Health (expected 2018)

Fiona Ruddy is a current dual degree Master’s student at the University of California, Berkeley in the School of Public Health and Department of City & Regional Planning. Before returning to graduate school Fiona served as the Director of Food Access Programs at the Eastern Market Corporation, a non-profit food access organization in Detroit, MI. Since moving to California Fiona has broadened her experience around equity and the social determinants of health by working with Real Food Media, Prevention Institute, and the San Francisco Foundation’s Great Communities Collaborative on projects ranging from communications to policy to curriculum development. Fiona is excited to join the Beneficial State Fellowship program this summer and expand her knowledge around economic justice issues.


Grace Lihn
Project Focus: Cooperative Models and Financing
Branch: Oakland
Hometown: San Jose, CA
Education: UC Berkeley – B.S. Cooperative Business and Food Systems with a minor in Education

Grace Lihn is an artist, educator, and recent graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in Cooperative Business and Food Systems. She served as the Experiential Learning Fellow for the Berkeley Food Institute and the University of California Global Food Initiative, where she conducted an oral history project exploring food literacy in its many forms. She previously volunteered as the Board Chair of the Berkeley Student Food Collective, where she worked to create a more equitable and inclusive storefront and community space. Grace has also previously facilitated gardening classes for the Student Organic Gardening Association, guided wanderlust freshmen in the Global Environment Theme House, and trained as a middle school educator with Breakthrough Collaborative – Oakland. She currently facilitates the Cooperatives DeCal course at UC Berkeley and is passionate about creating democratic, inclusive and cooperative learning spaces. Her dreams include co-owning an espresso and cocktails bar with her bartender friends, becoming a cooperative attorney through a legal apprenticeship, and teaching about cooperatives in a business school. In her free time, Grace enjoys cycling in the East Bay hills and painting watercolors.


Javonte Hubbard
Project Focus: Community Engagement – Fresno and Central Valley
Branch:  Fresno
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Education: UC Merced, B.S. Management and Business Economics with a minor in Psychology (expected May 2018)

Javonte Hubbard is a rising senior at UC Merced who is currently pursuing a BS in Management and Business Economics with a minor in Psychology. Javonte has served in many leadership roles throughout his undergraduate education. He has served as the Chief Research and Development Officer of Business Society at UC Merced, an organization that aims to prepare students for the professional world after their collegiate careers.  Javonte also currently serves as a Resident Assistant at UC Merced’s Housing and Residence Life, where he builds safe and inclusive learning communities in the form of programing and guiding first and second year students in their journey at the university. Javonte also has a passion for helping people and that is why he pursued a fellowship with Beneficial State Bank.  Beneficial State Bank allows Javonte the opportunity to combine his major with his passion; which is to help serve the underserved communities that are often taken for granted. He aims to use the knowledge and insight he has gained to help young people and individuals in low socioeconomic communities have the resources necessary to succeed in life. In his free time, he enjoys sports, meeting new people, and traveling to new places.


Manny Barragan
Project Focus: Community Engagement – East Los Angeles
Branch: East Los Angeles
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Education: University of Providence – B.A. Business Administration (expected May 2018)

Manny Barragan is pursuing his B.A. in Business Administration at the University of Providence in Montana.  Manny began his banking career as an intern at Sun Pacific Bank where he worked on many financial projects including analyzing historical stock quotes, market caps and reporting ROE and ROA.  He also has experience working in the commercial real estate sector while at LGI Association.  He was responsible for communicating with over 20 commercial residential property managers. Manny has a strong passion for financial literacy and education.  One of his life purposes is to be someone who can bring what he has learned in the financial world to his community and people around him.  He has served as a spokesperson and volunteer for Junior Achievement of Southern California – an organization that empowers young people through financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship education. In addition to his academic pursuits, Manny is very active in his community.  He currently works for AWARE INC. which is a nonprofit designed to help people with various disabilities to become independent in life and succeed in their communities.  When he has spare time, Manny loves playing soccer, hiking, food tasting & doing road trips.


Tegan Molloy
Project Focus: Community Engagement – Non-profits  
Branch: Portland
Hometown: Portland, OR
Education: Presidio Graduate School – M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems (expected 2018)

Tegan began her career in NYC working on two feature-length social-issue documentaries that aired on PBS & Netflix. She then transplanted to Los Angeles, eventually working as a creative TV network executive for The Discovery Family Channel. Over five years at the network she shepherded over 200+ hours of original award-winning TV content on six branded series from concept to delivery, including the network’s keystone series. Tegan also launched a multi-media nonprofit called, Look What She Did! bringing astonishing women to light. She served on the Board of the Net Impact LA chapter as VP of Sustainability Partnerships & Initiatives and designed an experiential Art+Sustainability Festival for the community. Tegan earned her B.A. in film & media from Montana State University with a minor in International Business. She’s currently an MBA in Sustainable Systems candidate at Presidio Graduate School and a student leader of Kaizen.

Beneficial State supports CalEITC expansion

Beneficial State supports CalEITC expansion

The California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) is an important tool proven to boost economic stability for working families with the lowest incomes.  According to the California Budget & Policy Center, more than 90% of the CalEITC went to working families with children who are living in poverty. The CalEITC, together with the federal EITC, lifted an estimated 255,000 Californians out of deep poverty in tax year 2015.

In 2016, as part of our commitment to communities that have been historically underserved, Beneficial State Bank was one of only ten financial institutions that offered a check cashing waiver for CalEITC-qualified recipients.  In the absence of a mandated living wage that truly allows a family to have economic mobility, the EITC is a necessary tool to help lift a family above the poverty line. Beneficial State Foundation supports the following expansions to improve the EITC program, consistent with the CA state legislators’ and Governor’s recommendations:

  1. Increasing outreach to eligible California residents who have not filed for the credit.  The majority who are eligible for the tax credit aren’t required to file state income taxes due to their very low incomes. Therefore, strategic and targeted outreach is critical.
  2. Increasing the income threshold, which currently limits who is eligible for the credit, and allowing Californians who are self-employed to claim the credit.  These changes would bring the state’s tax credit closer in line with the federal tax credit.

State Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) Build on the Well-Documented Success of the Federal EITC (March 9, 2017)
The CalEITC Provides Substantial Benefits to Low-Income Working Families with Children (May 8, 2017)

Elmy Bermejo

Board Director

Elmy Bermejo has been a senior government official with more than 25 years of experience in executive level management, strategic planning, policy development and advocacy.  She has an established successful record of collaboration with public and private stakeholders on a range of issues including workforce development, immigration, paid leave, minimum wage, discrimination in pay, disaster relief, small business and healthcare. She has deep relationships with Congress, the Executive Branch, federal, state and local government. Elmy has a passion for building and strengthening relationships while assisting people and organizations attain their goals.

On January 4, 2010 Elmy was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve at the US Department of Labor as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and in 2014 was appointed as the West Coast Regional Representative for former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Her public service includes working for several elected officials including Retired CA State Senators John Burton and Don Perata and former U.S.Rep. Lynn Woolsey and U.S. Rep. Mel Levine and the late U.S.Senator Alan Cranston.

Elmy is currently the President of the San Francisco Commission on the Environment, serves on the board of The Beneficial State Foundation and is an Advisory member of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE). She is also a founding member of the Emily’s List Latina Advisory Council.

Elmy previously served on the CA Commission on the Status of Women and the Women’s Foundation of California. She is a founding member of EMERGE, an organization that trains democratic women to run for local office.

Elmy’s family owns Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, a well-known and beloved restaurant recognized as a San Francisco institution for more than 50 years.  There she gained valuable insights and sensitivity to the challenges faced by small business owners.

Maritessa Bravo Ares

Maritessa Bravo Ares, Program ManagerSr. Community Engagement Officer, Bay Area and Sacramento

Maritessa Bravo Ares serves as a Community Engagement Officer at Beneficial State Foundation.  In her role, Maritessa spearheads small business engagement and community relations strategy in multiple markets, drives new initiatives from concept to execution, and develops the next generation of socially-responsible leaders through the flagship fellowship program.  She is attracted to big, ambitious ideas as catalysts for social change and has a strong passion for people, justice and equity.


Jhana Valentine

Social and Environmental Impact Associate

Originally from Iowa, Jhana spent the last five years in Portland, Oregon pursuing a degree in environmental studies from Lewis & Clark College. Both personally and professionally, Jhana is passionate about community development through sustainable business practices.