Eljach Gives Back
Fifth in our series in partnership with the Hispanic Alliance
By Leigh Savage
Photo by Amy Randall Photography
Ghisela Eljach arrived from Barranquilla, Colombia, in 2000 at age 19, excited for her opportunities and the beauty of the Greenville area but facing challenges as well: limited knowledge of the language and culture and difficulty finding the services she needed.
Fifteen years later, she created , a publication that addresses these problems for people arriving in the area from Latin countries while also creating need-to-know content for a variety of English- and Spanish-speaking readers.
Designed to connect cultures, the bimonthly publication and its growing website offer local, national and international content on topics including entertainment, health, beauty and news.
“Ghisela embodies the best qualities of a leader and entrepreneur,” says Adela Mendoza, executive director of the Hispanic Alliance. “Even as she was building her business, she reached out to Hispanic Alliance to give back. It takes a special person to think of community success as an extension of personal achievement. She’s the real deal, and Greenville is lucky to have her.”
The lifestyle magazine customizes its articles, with those targeting older readers often presented in Spanish while the younger-skewing features typically published in English. The website allows visitors to choose the language they prefer.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, she’s worked to assist the Latin community by publishing articles on where to get tested and where to get a vaccine as well as places to visit in Greenville and restaurants where guests can sit outside.
“People want to see how to make a life here, things to enjoy, where to go to the doctor or the dentist,” she says. “We guide them and recommend places.”
Her team of freelance writers and designers, who have been with her from the beginning, also cover news from Mexico, Colombia and other countries with large populations in the Upstate. “We talk about our roots, covering stories from home for people away from home,” she says.
Despite pandemic challenges, including losing some freelance staff who had to focus on other jobs, InSouth has hit 25,000 readers this year, with 10,000 monthly visitors on the site and 15,000 printed distribution, including subscribers and copies available at area stores.
The digital product just launched in August, in response to the pandemic, and she started to see growth by the thousands each month. “We’re now maintaining, and our purpose is to continue growing so our Latin community feels accompanied,” she says. She recently expanded social media efforts, and online readership has grown beyond South Carolina’s borders.
As executive director, Eljach heads up sales and, along with her team, the creative side of putting the publication together. She had three sales people pre-Covid, but is now a sales team of one. “But I’m working with agencies, and most of the time people contact me,” she says. “And we have clients who have been with us since the first year.”
During the pandemic, she also created EG Latin Media, a company designed to give businesses greater reach and visibility, and she often consults with people - especially women from other countries - on how to achieve their dreams and goals.
Making her move
Eljach was studying law in Colombia when she first visited her older brother, who through various twists of fate had landed in Greenville. She was immediately drawn to the area’s setting, people and culture, and after the visit, she told her parents she wanted to move here as well.
All she needed was a job.
“My parents told me, if you want to move, move, but we won’t pay. So I had to do it, and I went through a lot of different things,” working in factories and restaurants and attending Greenville Technical College.
Though she knew it would be difficult, the transition turned out to be even harder than she expected. For example, taking classes at Greenville Tech was difficult because many of her high school courses from Colombia didn’t transfer. Add language barriers, paperwork issues, and the complex process of becoming a U.S. Citizen, and it took 10 years to achieve her goal of getting a certificate in applied science with a major in business management.
But she never gave up, and she was also learning the ropes at a small business, beginning as a receptionist at Chapman Products Co., a Fountain Inn company that manufactures hair care products. By the time she left the company in 2016, she was CEO.
“When I started there, it was only the two owners and three employees: two in the warehouse and me as the receptionist. Then I was promoted to purchasing and then little by little, I got promoted to other areas that I created...when I left, it was a work team of 25 employees and independent contractors plus distributors all over the U.S. and Latin America.”
She went on to earn an associate’s degree in marketing from Greenville Tech in 2017.
Though it was difficult to earn her degrees and build her career, she felt fortunate that her parents had convinced her to take night classes in English grammar and pronunciation in addition to her high school courses in Colombia. Despite her fluency, she still takes pronunciation classes in Greenville. “That’s my challenge, to speak English fluently and clearly,” she says.
Her parents and younger brother eventually followed the older two siblings to the Upstate, and
Eljach married husband Carlos in 2003. Though her brothers have now moved to Florida, her parents, Jose and Ruth, remain in Greenville, and her mother helps out at InSouth.
Eljach was quick to get involved with the Hispanic Alliance, and has worked on the legal and education committees. Her largest project in education has been the Hispanic heritage event A Night of Bonitas, a night of food, fashion and performances that raised funds for scholarships. It was canceled in 2020 due to Covid, though she hopes to see it reinstated in the future.
She also volunteers on the legal committee, helping put on workshops teaching newcomers how to fill out the forms required to become a U.S. citizen. She became a legal resident in 2008 and a U.S. citizen in 2014.
“For two years, Ghisela has become a ray of sunshine at our citizenship workshop,” says Debbra Alvarado, operations and network manager at Hispanic Alliance. “Whether it is welcoming participants or helping them fill out their forms, her kindness and affection make everyone feel hopeful.”
Eljach loves her adopted hometown, and feels fortunate to be here, especially during Covid-19. “Compared to family I have in Texas and Florida, and people in Colombia, we’ve been very blessed. Everyone has been very friendly and supporting each other,” she says.
And while she has had to make adjustments, “we’ve been very busy. I can’t complain,” she says. “There are businesses opening that want to advertise. I have seen it as an opportunity that we are taking to consider changes in our business.
“We were in a comfort zone, and with Covid, many people decided to make changes,” she adds. “It’s been a time to reinvent, and that’s an opportunity for businesses to grow.”