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At United Way of Greenville County, USC Upstate grad connects with community

Head and shoulders photo of Elvia Pacheco

It was almost a decade ago, but Elvia M. Pacheco says she still gets emotional when she thinks about taking her oath and becoming a United States citizen.

Now, working as the director of philanthropy with the United Way of Greenville County and founder of the nonprofit organization LatinosUnited, the USC Upstate graduate has come full circle – giving back to the community that helped mold her.

“During my naturalization process, I could only think about how fortunate and blessed I was to be a part of this country that played such a role in shaping the person that I am now,” she says. “During the ceremony I had a flashback of everything that I'd been exposed to alongside with my parents, this moment brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the sacrifices my parents made to provide me with a better future.”

Pacheco’s family crossed into the United States illegally from Mexico when Elvia was only a few months old, looking for a better life and opportunities. Her parents — teenagers with little formal education — worked as migrant farmers, first in Washington state and then throughout the South.

Her family was granted lawful permanent residency in the U.S. in the 1980s, and she held that status through college at USC Upstate before going through the process of becoming a “true citizen.”

“As a Hispanic or any immigrant to the country, it's not the easiest. And I come from a background with parents who had very humble roots,” she says. “I share with people that at times I feel like I was robbed of my childhood because I had to learn responsibilities at a very, very early age.”

As the oldest in the family, it fell to Pacheco to translate Spanish to English for her parents, and to pave the way in school for her younger siblings as the family moved to Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina. She returned to Mexico during her middle school years, and then the family moved to South Carolina, where she attended high school in Newberry. 

“As an immigrant, I understand the importance of bridging cultural divides and fostering unity. Together, we can build a more equitable and compassionate society, one that is stronger united."

Elvia Pacheco

“My father tells me that I was around 4 or 5 when I started helping them, since I was able to control both languages. I was always translating or interpreting for my parents in areas dealing with utility services, housing, medical visits, legal matters, automotive … pretty much anything that your normal adult who speaks English in this country is exposed to,” she says. “I have a very broad work history; I started working at an early age.”

Her parents also encouraged her to help family members and neighbors who had difficulty with the English language. It’s where she got her start volunteering and understanding the importance of helping the community – something she continues to this day.

She also has always grasped the value and importance of an education.

"I've always been curious, eager to learn as much as possible," she says. “My parents only have elementary level education; however, they were my motivation to pursue a college education. I always wondered what they would have been able to accomplish had they had a college degree as both are very dedicated and hard workers. Despite the obstacles, I knew I wanted to go to college, I knew it would be a challenge being the first from my immediate family to attend.”

She says she was drawn to USC Upstate for its smaller size and the Opportunity Network program for first-generation college students. While there, she was heavily involved in college life, serving as a resident adviser, orientation leader and president of the Hispanic club. Pacheco even won homecoming queen and was recognized as an outstanding college student at the Riley Institute Diversity Awards for being a diversity champion at school and the community. 

Following her graduation with a degree in communications and journalism, Pacheco worked in the private and public sectors. However, it was her recent opportunity to join the United Way of Greenville County that truly resonated with her. "United Way's focus on uplifting marginalized communities aligns with my personal experiences," she explains. "Having overcome barriers to education myself, I now have the privilege to advocate for those who face the same and similar barriers.

 “This is a great organization and employer for me.”

Early in her career, Pacheco realized the importance of exposing Hispanic youth to mentors who look like them. She established LatinosUnited, a platform aimed at providing support and guidance to students navigating similar challenges.

“I visualized LatinosUnited as a resource for Hispanic students, an organization that would connect them with individuals like them, something I didn't have when I was going through my studies,” she says. “I wanted them to have access to a network of professionals and leaders that would support them, provide information or answer questions, around education, especially navigating the college system.”

For Pacheco, community engagement isn’t just a professional endeavor – it’s a heartfelt commitment to giving back to the place she proudly calls home. 

 “As an immigrant, I understand the importance of bridging cultural divides and fostering unity," she says. "Together, we can build a more equitable and compassionate society, one that is stronger united."


Gamecock Nation: Greenville

If you studied at the University of South Carolina and are now living and working in the Upstate, you might sometimes feel like you’re alone as a Gamecock. But the truth is that the Greenville area is home to more than 28,000 USC alumni, making it the top destination for USC graduates after Columbia. We spoke with several alumni who are making an impact in Greenville.

Meet our Greenville Alumni
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