Harding entrepreneurs are partnering with business owners in Searcy to make ideas become reality. Four students in the Entrepreneurship 385 class — enterprise, innovation and growth with David Kee, assistant professor and director of the MBA program — were assigned to work with Ruth and Jay Simpson on their endeavor to create a nonprofit organization in Searcy. Their vision is a Hispanic Services Center on Main Street.
Junior Valerie LaFerney, a student member of the team, said the whole group was giddy with excitement at the opportunity to help.
“When they met with us for the first time, they were like, ‘we have nothing but an idea,’” LaFerney said.
Jay said that the official name of their organization is El Puente, which means “The Bridge.” He said the concept is to bridge two cultures — to help “the Hispanic culture bridge to the English-speaking world.”
“My wife, Ruth, for 10 years has had a heart to help Hispanic folks,” Jay said.
He said someone told him and Ruth about the Hispanic Services Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in November of last year, and after their first visit, it was almost like a lightbulb moment.
“It was almost everything that we had dreamed of, but we didn’t know how to articulate it,” Jay said.
The students working with businesses through the Harding entrepreneurship class are called “student-level consultants,” and Christian Mendez is a student-level consultant of the El Puente project.
“Every time Jay and Ruth have a question on how to go about something, they always come to us,” Mendez said.
He said that for the Simpsons, it is hard to know where to go or what steps to take next, but it is easy for him and the other business minds to see. They do a lot more than give advice, though, he said. They do a lot of building work, too, because they are willing to help.
“I’m really looking forward to opening this place up,” Mendez said. “Personally, because I am Hispanic, … I know how much need there is in places where it’s hard to blend in with the community and mesh.”
Jay said their next major legal step is to apply for a nonprofit status through the IRS. The paperwork and fees for that application costs $2,100. The student-level consultants helped organizeand facilitate an authentic Mexican food fundraiser on Saturday, March 2, to help with funds as well as to promote awareness of the dream for El Puente. The fundraiser was held at West Side Church of Christ.
“This is not just about us,” Jay said. “We want the community to buy into it.”
They also want to partner with Harding to provide experience and opportunity for students. The concept is to bridge communities after all.
“It could be such a good spot for students to be involved,” LaFerney said. “It is something that is so needed.”