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Student Entrepreneur Learns by Doing

Jack Rothacker, a double major in Spanish and business administration, launches a nonprofit to aid a school in El Salvador.

After talking to Jack Rothacker for a few minutes it is clear that he reflects NC State’s think and do mantra. The junior majoring in Spanish and business administration, with a concentration in entrepreneurship, harnessed his dream-big, can-do attitude and entrepreneurial spirit to launch a nonprofit to aid a school in El Salvador.

The goal of the nonprofit, Perseverancia, initially is to raise $23,000 to build a new classroom and provide educational resources for the Juan Calvino School in Soyapango, a city in the center of the country. So far, the nonprofit has raised $10,000 through donations and grants from local and small businesses and fundraising events, including a soccer tournament at NC State.

Rothacker came up with the idea for Perseverancia after a mission trip last June to the Central American community with his grandfather’s church, Highland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It partners with the Reformed Calvinist Church of El Salvador, which sponsors the school in Soyapango and works to improve the country’s educational system.

At first, the trip was a way to fulfill Rothacker’s desire to travel, experience new cultures, and utilize his Spanish language skills. However, it quickly turned into “an opportunity for me to help others,” he says.

Rothacker spent seven days volunteering in the community and at the school. In that time, he learned that the students had big dreams for their futures but little educational resources to achieve them.

“The private Juan Calvino School serves 100 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and 120 students in its high school program,” he adds. “However, when the students reach sixth grade they have no other option other than to attend a public school for seventh and eighth grades and in that transition, the school loses a good amount of kids who they don’t see again.”

Rothacker hopes building a new seventh-grade classroom will help keep students in school. Of the total amount he hopes to raise, roughly $15,500 will go to buy building materials for the classroom; the rest will be used to purchase educational supplies, including desks, whiteboards, a laptop, printer and projector.

“Our goal is to help these kids stay in school and get the education they deserve with the resources and opportunities they need to reach their potential,” says Rothacker, who continues to work virtually with school and community leaders in El Salvador.

Carmen Diaz, the school’s director for 23 years, says Perseverancia‘s goal aligns with the school’s mission: to transform the lives of students through quality education, including academic development and value formation.

“This also contributes to the prevention of violence, since it (the school) works with children and youth living in areas of risk and economic and social vulnerability, and to the generation of opportunities, reducing migration levels,” Diaz adds.

To set up his nonprofit, Rothacker sought help from such NC State organizations as Student Legal Services, Students for Immigrant Rights and Equality, American Marketing Association and the Latino fraternity Lambda Theta Phi, among others.

“In creating the nonprofit I’ve met and connected with many people at NC State, particularly within the Latinx community,” he says. “I learned just how big a network there is and how many resources are available on campus when you just look for them.”

The experience has also been impactful. “I am a double major in Spanish and business, and in my Arts Entrepreneurship class, I learned that now is the time to take risks – to fail,” he says. “So what I am studying goes hand-in-hand with what I am doing with Perseverancia. In turn, I have learned to work harder with better intention.”

He adds, almost half-jokingly, that on the plane flight from Charlotte to Pennsylvania, his seatmate predicted the trip would be life-changing. It has been, he muses and notes, “it has given me purpose.”

The current project is the start of what Rothacker says is his nonprofit’s long-term vision: to continue to help the Juan Calvino School and the Soyapango community with additional educational programs and projects, including a new cafeteria. He also plans to return to El Salvador this summer to teach English to the students.

The added hope is that Rothacker will be on hand for the construction of the seventh-grade classroom. And, it seems, he may have the perseverancia to realize that goal.