CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Nilsy Rapalo has made it her life’s mission to open doors for the Hispanic community and lift up those around her.

The Goose Creek mother moved to California 22 years ago from Barranquilla, Columbia. After two years on the west coast, her husband was transferred to work at Charleston’s Air Force base.

“For me, it was very isolating,” she said. “Realizing I didn’t have mentors or people I could in some way learn from,” she added.

The transition was difficult for Rapalo and her young family.

“When I came here I realized that as a Hispanic woman things were different for me. I had plenty of Hispanic role models in California as a support system. Two or three generations of Hispanics versus here.”

Nilsy Rapalo

She vowed to change that for others.

In 2002, Rapalo became the first Spanish speaking state mental health counselor in Dorchester County.  Then in 2007, she was awarded as the State Employee of the Year for the Department of Mental Health in Charleston and Dorchester Counties but her work didn’t stop there. In 2009, she opened a life coaching business that she operates on the side.

Rapalo said navigating starting a company was near impossible so she went to the drawing board.

“Guys we need to do a  non-profit! We need to create the Hispanic Business Association. We need to help others who want to open a business to give them tools. We need to do that for them because no one did it for us. We didn’t have a clue.”

The Hispanic Business Association was born and within a few years, the group partnered with Lowcountry Local First’s Good Enterprises Initiative to offer Spanish business classes.

Rapalo was a graduate of the initiative’s Community Business Academy in English and now teaches the 12-week course in Spanish.

“These people bring businesses and employees to our community. It is changing the life of a lot of people. It is amazing!”

Nilsy Rapalo

Each time she got her footing in the Lowcountry she committed to paving the way for other hopeful Hispanics.

“I try to have everything that I learn, that I know, that I experience, positive, negative, or challenging to bring it back to the community,” she said.

Nilsy said she sees herself as a bridge connecting families often with poor English language skills with the resources they need to succeed.

“Every single time that I have the opportunity to help it’s because I have learned something and can teach something,” she said.

A remarkable woman fueled by her passion to help others. 

“It is an honor to teach them. It is an honor to hold their hand. It is an honor to prevent something that happened to me to happen to them”

Nilsy Rapalo

Rapalo serves on multiple boards and committees including the City of Charleston’s Enterprise Office Advisory Board, Mayor Tecklenburg’s  Latinx Advisory board, the State Commission on Minority Affairs, and the Minority and Women and Owned Business Advisory committee.

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