For the past two years, members of WNC’s growing Latinx business community have held a bimonthly networking luncheon, founded and convened by Adriana Chavela, publisher of Hola Carolina magazine, and Zuri Anuel, of the nonprofit Carolina Small Business Development Fund.
And thanks to efforts led by Associate Professor of Spanish Michelle Bettencourt, UNC Asheville hosted the luncheon for the first time on Feb. 21 in Highsmith Student Union. “Michelle Bettencourt has been a great advocate for the Latino community for so many years – I remember her from when I first moved here in 2003,” said Chavela. “She has also been making sure we know about UNCA. We welcome her students to our events and festivals.”
Bettencourt’s invitations to students, faculty, staff and alumni swelled the luncheon attendance far above what is typical. “The maximum number of people we have has been around 45, but today we have almost 80, so it’s great,” said Anuel. “We’re doing this to build partnerships. The idea of this event is for us to get to know our community and what is happening in the community, and to build relationships and see how we can help each other.”
Bettencourt has been building bridges between the university and community for many years, arranging internships and service-learning opportunities in the Latinx community for UNC Asheville Spanish students. Melchor Gamez (right), a Spanish major and mass communication minor who has an internship at Hola Carolina magazine, was among those who spoke at the luncheon. A senior, Gamez will be looking for a teaching job when he graduates. “My ESL teacher is one of my biggest inspirations and I want to give back to the Hispanic community, helping youth who might be having hard times in school, being a kind of liaison between families and the school system.”
The luncheon was co-sponsored by UNC Asheville’s Office of Community Engagement and Department of Management and Accountancy – a natural fit given the luncheon’s business community focus. Eddy Guerra ’16, who majored in management and now works for BB&T, said he attended because “networking, establishing relationships is important – businesses can support each other, providing services another business might need. A lot of Latino community businesses are growing and I hope to help them with financial information for their banking needs.”
Micheal Stratton, chair and professor of management, attending for the first time, was very enthusiastic about UNC Asheville hosting the luncheon. “We want the Latinx community to get to know us and know that we are here to support them,” he said. “The expertise of our faculty could be of real benefit to these community organizations and businesses, and there could be internship and undergraduate research opportunities for our students – a mutually beneficial relationship.”
The room was not only full, but full of conversation, handshakes, and exchanges of business cards, with new ‘town/gown’ relationships being formed. “This was my hope in bringing it to campus,” said Bettencourt. “There are folks in the Latinx community who have never been to UNC Asheville, and faculty and staff who weren’t sure how to connect with the Latinx community. That was what success would look like – people who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths exchanging information and making plans, and today, those connections were made. I overheard a lot of ‘I’ll get in touch with you,’ and ‘let’s talk,’ and that warmed my heart.”