Mary DuPont helps people help themselves
Mary DuPont has many interests but describes herself as a social entrepreneur. She got her start in community involvement in the 1960s with the protests against the Vietnam War. While she was only 17 at the time, it laid the groundwork for her interest in community organization and helping people help themselves. In her efforts to bring people together, she has recognized that too often, people are separated from each other because of the focus people have on our differences, instead of focusing on what we all have in common. Mary says, “It is essential for people to find their own voice and learn to recognize the opportunities that are out there.”
After earning an undergraduate degree from Penn and a master’s degree from Temple, she ran a program in Philadelphia for women in business in the early 1990s. While working in that role, Mary traveled to India, where she saw women working together in a collaborative approach to help each other be successful. Mary came to Delaware in 1994 and joined the YWCA, where she started a micro loan program, utilizing the same ideas of mutual support. The loans through this program were relatively small, with funding for the program coming from the state, private foundations, financial institutions and the Small Business Administration. While this kind of program was successful in developing countries, Mary believed it failed in our country because it was too easy for people to walk away from small outstanding loans. From this experience, Mary recognized that what works to help people be successful is supporting those who have a vision, helping them understand basic business skills and concepts, and connecting them with other successful people where they can gain from others’ perspectives and knowledge.
Mary joined the Markell administration and developed the Stand by Me program. This was a financial empowerment program that helped people understand basic financial principles and was funded by both public and private dollars. It ended up serving more than 100,000 people across the state, and while running this program, she began working more closely with and developing connections with the Hispanic community through the Delaware Hispanic Commission. People who participated in Stand by Me eventually walked away with a financial plan and a set of goals to help them become financially successful.
Mary decided during COVID to retire to southern Delaware. While learning her way around Sussex County, she saw businesses popping up in Georgetown, many of which were owned by members of the Hispanic community. Looking to find a way to support these small businesses and help them be successful, she toyed with the idea of creating a marketplace to revitalize Race Street. She couldn’t find local support to partner with her on the idea.
Instead, Mary decided to focus on providing business development services to the Latino business community. She formed La Plaza Delaware with the support of local churches and an advisory board. She began recruiting people in the local community who would help business owners develop their own business plans, as well as offer business coaching services and access to capital. The organization currently has five employees, and over the last several years, La Plaza has worked with more than 400 business owners and ultimately formed the Delaware Alliance of Latin Entrepreneurs, which has essentially become a Latino Business Chamber of Commerce.
A major project that La Plaza is currently pursuing is the Georgetown Marketplace, which involves converting a former warehouse in Georgetown to a multipurpose facility that will provide workforce housing on the second and third floors, with space on the first floor for retail space and restaurants. For this project, she is partnering with investors who formed an Opportunity Zone Fund. The leader of the fund, Daniel Bond, is a Milford resident who knows how to identify and utilize public programs that support economic and residential development in distressed communities, such as the Downtown Development Districts Act, Historic Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits.
Looking out over the next five years, Mary hopes the Georgetown Marketplace project will be up and running, and will be successfully supporting the Hispanic business community. Mary is most proud of the way the Hispanic community has come together to support each other, and the resourceful and hardworking approach they have taken to developing their businesses that have started and continue to flourish. As a result of Mary’s support of the Hispanic business community and the development of La Plaza, Mary received the Delaware Hispanic Advocate of the Year honor from Delaware Hispano Magazine. As Mary looks forward to the next 10 years, she aims to transition La Plaza to a local Latino business leader that will continue to help the Latino community achieve its full economic potential by using talent, hard work and resilience.