This story is about…
Female entrepreneur: Maricela De Leon
Company: Just Kauz
Industry: Not for profit
Age range: 20s
What motivated you to start your business?
About four years ago I had an epiphany while visiting a childhood friend’s grave with my best friend. As we were driving home, I told my friend Giselle that I wanted to do something more with my life and my time. I realized that I had been doing a lot of community service around the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico through the University and through my church, but never where I grew up in San Carlos, Texas. I told her that I wanted to help those kids in San Carlos believe that they can graduate from high school and go to college. I wanted to inspire them. She told me that I could do it and that she would be beside me the whole way through. This was the beginning of a very rewarding journey, not just for me but for the kids in those communities who probably feel that there is no opportunity for them. This is how my effort to distribute back to school supplies began!
Tell us about your business…
With the help of my close friends and graduate school colleagues in 2009 I was able to raise enough funds and receive school supplies donations in the form of notebook spirals, crayola crayons, rulers, pencils, etc. to assist 100 school children in San Carlos Elementary with the Edinburg Consolidated School District. When I made the call to the principal to say that I had a donation for some students, they were very elated and excited and very much humbled that I had gifts for their students. To my surprise, I was told their school never had received a donation the size of mine. When they found out that I also had attended the school they got more sentimental and even made me cry. The following year, I did it again. I did it again because I saw the need and the importance of helping these children. I value education and I valued the help from my school teachers growing up. In 2010 I raised enough school supplies to help 200 students. It was at this point that I saw some struggles and challenges. I knew I needed a fiscal sponsor to help me with donations. With the assistance of my sorority Delta Xi Nu Multicultural Sorority, Inc. I was able to get the monetary donations I needed to get additional school supplies. My efforts for that year were a SUCCESS!!! When I delivered their educational tools, as I like to call it, I can see in their eyes that they are very thankful and for some it was the first time they ever received any form of gift. You see, while I was doing this charity, I was also enrolled in graduate school doing an applied research study to end my graduate school career. Upon my research, it was specifically the region I grew up in, the Rio Grande Valley, I found that although high stakes tests are of much discussion and debate, the children’s self-esteem and self- morale is at conflict with their potential to succeed. Some, lack family support in part having to do with the culture and their families socioeconomic status. So, it was very important to me that I formalize my charity work into an nonprofit organization so that I can establish strong partnerships within the community to ensure that my vision and mission of assisting these children in areas like San Carlos where I grew up were helped. I am glad to report that I formalized my nonprofit in June 2011 by the name of Just Kauz It’s Right with 9 board members and an attorney of counsel – pro bono. I have been blessed year after year and the support is still growing. Upon our formalization, we were able to assist 400 school children in the Edinburg and Mission/La Joya communities! The biggest success so far!
What is a day in the life of you like?
The day in the life of Mari consists of working over 40 hours a week working for the Texas House of Representatives as Capitol Chief of Staff for State Representative Aaron Peña of District 40. Not only do I manage his Capitol office, but I am also his Chief Committee Clerk for the Texas House Committee on Technology. When I am not working, I am dedicating my time to my nonprofit, Just Kauz or helping my friend Victor Blanco, who is waiting on a kidney transplant and helping him raise funds for his medical expenses through the National Foundation of Transplants. Aside from that, I spend my free time, mostly my Sundays catching up with my family, including both my grandmothers. My days are full of fun and business. Life is too short to not be productive, but I embrace life each day and live it as if it is my last.
What have been your biggest challenges so far with running your business?
The biggest challenges so far has been than we are a fairly new nonprofit. We are not recognized as a Federal IRS tax exempt nonprofit organization so some companies are reluctant to assist. We had the support of our local Walmart, but with changes in their policies they are not assisting charity organizations.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I overcame these challenges by finding other alternatives to get the job done. Also, with the support from friend in the media I was able to have successful press releases sent out to all media in the Rio Grande Valley that helped garner over $600 dollars in monetary and supplies donations. Also, I was able to apply for the State of Texas nonprofit tax exempt status through our Texas Comptroller. That would really help us out.
What have you found to be the most effective way to get new clients?
The most effective way to get my nonprofit mission across to the public and community individuals of influence is through networking and sharing my experience thus far with past partnerships and where I would like to be. This has been extremely important, because I want the partnership to be a strong one and for the long run!
What advice would you give to other business owners?
My advice would be to never give up, surround yourself among like minded individuals and be very consistent and always follow through. I have a to do list of short term and long term goals and my plan to execute them. So far, I have been successful!
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I keep motivated through difficult times by self-empowerment and self-motivation, through reminders of when my life was most difficult and I surpassed that adversity. I find motivation in my future children and my own nieces and nephews. I also find motivation in the little hope that I may instill in them to move forward in their education. That is what helps me, but most importantly my faith keeps me grounded and focused and reminds me of why I am involved so much.
What’s your favourite quote?
My favorite quote is from Ghandi:
“Be the change you want to see in this world”
..It is very true! and also this one by Eleanor Roosevelt…
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by my parents determination of having a great life and living within their means and providing for myself and my siblings after all the hardships they endured, especially with our house burning down when I was a toddler. I learned the lesson that wanting things is not so important as needing things. Let’s just say, my father was tough and getting an education was a must. I am so glad I did!
Do you have a business philosophy?
My philosophy is live life, work hard and everything else wall fall into place. Big ideas come from humble beginnings.
Get in touch…
Facebook Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Just-Kauz-Its-Right/148389878534190