When Lyon College junior José Balderas Jr. looked into volunteer organizations to help out the local Latino community, the last thing he expected was to start the first.
He established Create, Rise, Educate, Achieve, Represent (CREAR) in 2019 to offer educational programs, provide resources to the younger generation, and foster unity through events that bring the Latino community together by celebrating its traditions and culture. Its acronym, “crear,” means “to create” in Spanish.
While CREAR was only recently established, it has already grown from one person to over 1,000 members, who are either volunteering or receiving some sort of benefit from the organization. CREAR is looking to form chapters in other counties, as well as a Lyon College chapter.
Balderas was initially looking for a way to use his experiences to help Latino high school students prepare for college. Since his parents did not know English, Balderas had to figure out the ACT and college applications on his own as a high school student.
He realized there was a language barrier for many Latino households.
“It wasn’t just my family; it was a lot of people,” Balderas said.
According to CREAR, nearly 15 percent of Batesville’s population is Latino. CREAR is the first formalized group in Independence County to address the needs of the Latino community through monthly informational meetings, held in a friendly bilingual format, that anyone can attend.
Balderas reached out to his aunt, attorney Corazon de Jesus Galvan, for advice on how to start a nonprofit. She told him it would be important to file articles of incorporation for the organization, to form a board of directors, and to file for nonprofit status with Arkansas’ secretary of state.
He later partnered with Lai-Monté Hunter, dean of Campus Life and Diversity at Lyon College, and Bill Oliva, Hispanic outreach officer at First Community Bank, to make connections.
Balderas said he is grateful to have had mentors to turn to during this process.
“[Hunter] really pushed me. I’m a shy person, but he and several of the professors encouraged me to pursue this,” Balderas said.
“I felt comfortable asking for help and asking for pointers on what to do. The support system at Lyon was important in my life and helped me get CREAR going.”
CREAR held its first inauguration in the Brown Chapel Fine Arts Building on Dec. 7, inducting both its board of directors and its Honor Court composed of area high school students from Batesville and Southside.
The organization has already hosted a few events. The Lyon Fiesta, held in September on Lyon’s campus, honored the Latino culture and traditions with dance, music, food, and games. In October, the organization hosted the Cena de Exito (Dinner of Success), which recognized the accomplishments of area high school students.
CREAR has also given out backpacks full of school supplies to around 50 children in foster care and held community clinics at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Balderas said it sometimes feels weird to operate a volunteer organization as a college student.
“It’s awkward that the board members are looking to me, and I’m the youngest one,” he said, laughing.
“I’m used to taking orders from adults, so it amazes me that this is actually happening.”
CREAR’s initial focus was on preparing high school students for higher education, but members quickly saw the need for adult education as well, including financial literacy. According to PolitiFact California, roughly 40 percent of the Latino population nationwide is hesitant to call 911.
“Many don’t know how, are afraid to call, or just can’t speak the language,” Balderas said.
The overall goal is to help Latino community members feel confident where they live.
“I want CREAR to be a voice for the Latino community and to let them know there are resources and opportunities out there,” Balderas said. “I want to minimize any fear people have.”
He believes CREAR may be his career calling.
“I’ve always wanted to help people. When I came to Lyon, I didn’t know what to do,” Balderas said. “Now that this is getting big, I’m thinking about majoring in Spanish and business administration to help me help CREAR.”
CREAR plans to file for nonprofit 501c3 status in 2020.
“We’ve gotten so much positive feedback not just from the Batesville community but also from Little Rock and other areas.”
Balderas never imagined CREAR would get this big this fast.
“Bill Muniz, who helped me establish a board, said if we can get a good strong foothold in Arkansas then we could expand to other states and maybe go national.”
“I’m just glad we’re doing something good and that people actually like it,” Balderas said. “I want to continue expanding horizons for Latino families and getting them more involved in the community.”