Making a difference

Arturo Noriega, seen here at Mori Point, is founder of Centro Community Partners. He has earned praise from AARP for his efforts in Pacifica.

Centro Community Partners, based in Oakland, sets up small business entrepreneurs with everything they need to be successful. That includes resources and training often lacking for minorities and women.

Founded by Pacifican Arturo Noriega, who serves as chief executive officer, the organization earned this year’s AARP’s Purpose Prize. It is awarded to those who, at 50 or older, tap into their own life experiences to build a better future for all.

Centro’s work begins with a vision statement submitted by a budding entrepreneur. After that the team helps in every way to make sure that dreams will blossom into a business. It provides wrap-around support to help entrepreneurs learn business competency, leadership and to secure credit.

All those skills and resources have traditionally been lacking for women of color, in particular, across the country, noticed Noreiga, but there is also a lack of opportunities for male minorities seeking business support.

“A loan can help people grow and change,” Noriega said in a promotional video Centro submitted to AARP for the Purpose Prize.

Centro gathered the team members together to bring a bakery, a vegan taco truck, an art gallery and a piroshki place — dreams of clients — to fruition. The organization has newly graduated MBAs assigned to be business advisers, one-on-one, to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The Centro Community Partners lists many on its website with skills to lead, counsel and help find funding for new business owners. Noriega has 20 years of experience in economic development and an MBA in strategic management and leadership from Claremont Graduate School. Chief Operations Officer Naldo Peliks is experienced in technology, banking, retail and education, and Susie Sullivan, finance director, is focused on supporting money mindfulness for women- owned companies. Emily Kaplowitz, development associate, helps find donors for Centro. Veronica Gutierrez is the capital access manager.

Several entrepreneur trainers provide help to prospective business owners in the Bay Area. An advisory board meets to strategize about Centro.

Noriega is traveling right now for the Centro Community Foundation, but the Tribune caught up with him by email to answer a few questions about himself, his organization and the Purpose Prize.

What is AARP’s Purpose Prize?

The AARP Purpose Prize is the only national award that celebrates people 50-plus who are using their knowledge and life experience to solve tough social problems. I presented the work I have done through Centro Community Partners, the nonprofit I founded in 2010.

What motivated you to found Centro Community Partners?

I work toward creating more racial equity and social justice in the economic development system. I got tired of how women of color, minorities and immigrants were being discriminated against and racially profiled and denied access to entrepreneurship assistance and capital to start their businesses.

What are your other hobbies and interests?

I like winemaking, cooking, biking and hiking the trails in Pacifica.

What do you like about living in Pacifica?

Everything! I love Pacifica. I have been a resident for 22-plus years. The best parts are the trails and our lovely people who are quite tolerant and inclusive. I have always felt safe in Pacifica.

What else do you want readers to know?

I would like readers to know that Centro Community Partners helps underserved entrepreneurs through online tools to start and grow small businesses for free. Look up our cool app, the Centro Business Planning App, to get started or an online class at

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