Nilsy Rapalo
Entrepreneur Nilsy Rapalo, a Latinx Council member, helps connect Spanish businesses with the city | Credit: Ruta Smith

The Lowcountry has a bunch of bridges but there’s one you might not have heard of: the area’s Latinx Advisory Council. Comprised of 38 people from diverse backgrounds in business, education and cultural affairs, they provide social services for and improve engagement with the Hispanic community.

“We have been like a bridge to connect the city with the Hispanic community, and in that way we can create a conversation,” said Nilsy Rapalo, business growth and development co-chair for the Latinx Advisory Council.

Rapalo, a native of Barranquilla, Colombia, moved to Charleston 20 years ago. She has been a mental health counselor with the S.C. Department of Mental Health as well as a life coach. In 2015, she opened a business development company, Circulos de Bienestar, which offers a range of services for the Hispanic business community.

A major role of the Latinx Advisory Council is to meet the needs of the Spanish-speaking business community, Rapalo said. A board member with the local Hispanic Business Association, she has organized Spanish-speaking business expos that help minority businesses register with state and federal entities to receive grant money, among other services.

“These are amazing people that are doing good things for the city,” Rapalo said. “They are just asking to have the same opportunities as other citizens. No more, no less, just the same.”
Motivation for Rapalo came after she graduated from Lowcountry Local First’s Community Business Academy Program as the only Spanish-speaking participant in 2019. Since then, she’s become a teacher with the program and helped to develop its Spanish curriculum.

“Now [the local Hispanic population] has the opportunity to learn about business and have all the tools, resources and support from the Latinx Council, from the City of Charleston and from Lowcountry Local First,” she said. “They can open their businesses with support.”

Charlie O’Brien joined the Latinx Advisory Council about a year ago. He is the director of client experience for Climb Fund downtown on Race Street, a nonprofit that creates jobs and fosters economic development through small business loans.

O’Brien, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, said he has been in the U.S. most of his life. He’s done translations, such as Spanish language versions of Covid-19 safety information, for the City of Charleston as part of his role on the council. The council is currently working on developing Spanish inclusion on the City of Charleston website.

“There’s people from all different walks of life, from all different cultures [on the Latinx council] so when we get together, you get a well-rounded conversation,” O’Brien told City Paper. “I think positive things come out of it. Our calendar this year has grown so much as far as celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, and I think that does show that there is some progress being made.”

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