Leslie Castillo: Flowers Castles

Leslie Castillo: Flowers Castles

Leslie Castillo started her business, Flowers Castles, with assistance from EAF and partner Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County. (Amanda Mae Photography for JFS of Washtenaw County)

When Leslie Castillo arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Honduras in 2022, she dreamed of owning a business one day.

“Part of me said it wasn’t possible, because I didn’t have the money,” said Castillo, who worked as a cleaner at the time and had very little English fluency or access to capital. “So I was fighting against this inner me that said no.”

Despite her doubts, she persevered. Just two years after arriving in the U.S., she owns Flowers Castles — a thriving commercial and residential painting business with five employees — and her own home. She attributes much of her success to the support she received from HIAS Economic Advancement Fund (EAF) and our partner, Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County. After receiving financial literacy training and business technical assistance from JFS, she also received a $15,000 loan from EAF to invest in marketing and purchase supplies.

“Odell and HIAS [EAF] pushed me toward success,” said Castillo, referring to JFS of Washtenaw County’s micro enterprise development programs manager, Odell Palacio. “Odell essentially taught me about everything that you need to operate as an entrepreneur. He taught me about taxes, how to manage my money. When I opened the bank account for my business, he was there helping me.”

JFS also became Castillo’s first client, and her first contract hangs prominently on one of the JFS office walls painted by Flowers Castles. That first job brought in several opportunities from people who saw her and her employees working that day — and since then, the business has grown tremendously.

The success of Flowers Castles has been transformative not only for Castillo, but for her family as well.  Several members of Castillo’s family work at Flowers Castles, building on their years of experience in painting and renovation.

“I feel really proud of them,” said Castillo. “They’re always looking for things that they can do to go the extra mile and make sure that the job is done very well. That’s part of the reason we have such a good reputation.”

In 2023, Castillo was also one of five EAF clients selected for an additional grant from the Braun Foundation. She was able to use that money for a down payment for her first home.

“I used to think this was impossible,” she said. “I was able to achieve this thanks to the program’s support of my family. I can say today that I have a stable, dignified life in the U.S., and I have a beautiful life with my family. We’re really, really grateful.”

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