The Presidential Precinct placed young entrepreneurs from Latin American and Caribbean nations at Charlottesville-area businesses and nonprofits through the U.S. Department of State’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
State Department program participants hosted by the Presidential Precinct
Jacquelin Alcius co-founded a business accelerator and incubator in the city of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, soon after the country was left devastated by an earthquake in 2010.
“We saw a need to spread entrepreneurship — people needed work,” he said.
Alcius has spent the last month in Charlottesville, shadowing staff at the University of Virginia i.Lab Incubator and the Community Investment Collaborative to learn about ways new businesses in the area are raising capital.
“I have learned a lot from being in that environment,” Alcius said. “People here are open-minded, and happy to share information.”
Alcius is one of 10 young entrepreneurs from Latin American and Caribbean nations who were placed at Charlottesville-area businesses and nonprofits this fall through the U.S. Department of State’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative.
Charlottesville’s YLAI Professional Fellows were hosted by the Presidential Precinct, a collaboration between the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and four presidential estates — Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and his Morven farm property; James Madison’s Montpelier; and James Monroe’s Highland.
“We are the epicenter of the great minds who founded the United States of America,” said Presidential Precinct founder James B. Murray Jr. “We challenge these aspiring leaders to think about the lessons we can learn from history.”
“We believe these visiting leaders have the power to create thriving, just and peaceful societies,” said Neal Piper, executive director of the Presidential Precinct.
The Presidential Precinct placed each YLAI fellow at a local site that aligned with their work in their home countries.
Oscar Alvarado Freer is co-founder of Terminal Avenida 9 Coffee Shop in San Jose, Costa Rica. He said Costa Rica — a major exporter of coffee and other agricultural products — doesn’t have a robust domestic market for these goods.
“We want [Costa Rican] people to realize that they can enjoy the same high-quality local products at home — in this case, our great coffee,” he said.
During his placement at Mudhouse Coffee Roasters, Freer worked as a barista, learned coffee-roasting techniques and received advice for growing his small business.
“I really love Charlottesville,” he said. “It’s a small town, but it has a lot in it. You can feel the love from the people here.”
Veronica Rodriguez Martinez co-founded WINEMEUP, a collaborative winery in Uruguay that provides winemaking facilities and training for grape growers. She also is involved in efforts to promote wine tourism in her country. However, she said her placement at First Colony Winery in Albemarle County had her directly participating in the winemaking process for the first time.
“I got a better idea of the effort it takes to produce wine,” Martinez said. “It will bring me closer to our growers; they will have more confidence in me.”
Fonnique Miller, co-founder and COO of a post-production company in Jamaica, worked at Paladin Media Group in Charlottesville. Miller said her company is producing a video outreach campaign that will encourage Jamaican schoolchildren to engage in creative pursuits.
“In Jamaica, being a creative can make you an outcast; you are seen as someone who is not academically inclined,” she said. “We want to tell students to embrace who they are, and find their own definition of success.”
Samanta Lacayo Trujillo, founder of a senior center in Nicaragua, worked at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging. She said she was struck by the economic disparity she observed on visits to senior centers throughout Central Virginia.
“You think that everyone [in America] has everything they need, but there are many seniors here in need of services,” she said.
Trujillo said she wanted her center to replicate JABA’s pen-pals program, which pairs Burnley-Moran Elementary students with adults at the Mary Williams Community Senior Center.
“I want to support intergenerational programs like that,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to raise awareness of elders in the community.”
The Presidential Precinct, in partnership with Tupperware Brands, is preparing to host a Global Leadership Forum on promoting gender equality in education. The conference will take place at UVa from Nov. 15-17.

Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.