Local Visalian claims title of “Businessperson of the Year”

Nick Vargas is the first out gay man to hearn Businessperson of the Year honors by Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

VISALIA – After years of building up his co-founded business The Source LGBT+ Center, Nick Vargas was recognized as Businessperson of the Year, making him the first out gay man to receive the honor.

Vargas received the award at the chamber’s annual awards gala on Jan. 20. Co-founder and director of development and strategy for The Source LGBT+ Center, Vargas was voted to take the honor by the chamber’s members of about 10,000 people, including the chamber’s gala committee and board of directors. In addition to earning a plaque for his accomplishment, he also earned a role as the first openly gay man to win the award for the Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“For me, it shows that our area of Tulare and Kings counties are becoming more progressive for an out gay person to be nominated to win,” Vargas said. “It also shows the impact that The Source LGBT+ Center has had on our communities.”

Vargas also said it was nice for his nonprofit organization to be recognized for its work, which aims to improve the community, save lives and build up the local economy. Started seven years ago by himself and co-founder Brian Poth, who is also the organization’s executive director, Vargas said the center was first an idea funded with a $20,000 annual budget supplied by online donations. This year, that budget has grown to just over $2 million. Now, the center has 14 employees and hosts major events, like Pride Visalia and drag queen bingos, as a way to boost Visalia’s economy.

A native Visalian himself, Vargas said he graduated from Golden West High School in 1995. For college, he traversed out of the valley, as he knew he could not live as an out gay person at the time, and made his way to the bay, where he attended Stanford University. He lived there for 20 years before making the journey home at 37 to retouch with his roots and be closer to family.

Coming back into his home town, Vargas eventually met Poth, who is also local to the area. After meeting and expressing their shared experiences, Vargas said the two eventually decided to start The Source LGBT+ Center. He said the two had become accustomed to these types of centers in the state’s bigger cities, which supply LGBTQ+ individuals health care, mental health care and a sense of community, and wanted to address the lack of these types of services in Visalia’s community.

“We met some other people who thought it was a great idea, and had an initial meeting maybe a month after talking about it,” Vargas said.

One of the biggest challenges faced through getting the center up and running was finding local businesses and people willing to support and donate to the business, according to Vargas. He said in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, it was easier to garner funds for this type of cause, but in the local scene, he and others had to ask for the funding directly and make cases to get it. Through overcoming other people’s personal opinions on the matter, trying twice as hard to get support from other people and businesses, The Source LGBT+ Center was eventually able to become the support center it is today.

“Brian and I, and the people who have been with us since the beginning, we didn’t have a background in nonprofit work,” Vargas said. “So we had to learn everything as we went along and make sure we were doing it right. There was a steep learning curve.”

Thus far, Vargas noted several achievements that detail his business’ impact. This includes purchasing their current site at 109 NW 2nd Ave in Visalia, near Oval Park, having their youth community get the first Pride Month proclamation passed with Visalia Unified School District and by becoming the largest LGBTQ+ center in the area. According to Vargas, there is not another center larger than The Source LGBT+ Center between Los Angeles and Sacramento.

As the organization continues to outgrow its current residence, Vargas said a next step that The Source is taking is to pay off their existing site and purchase more space. To do this, he said the organization is forming a committee and finding people who might be interested in supporting and donating to the cause.

After well over seven years of working towards these goals, Vargas said he hopes to leave a legacy with the work he and others have put into the center. He said that making an impact on the lives of those in the local LGBTQ+ community inspires him to continue his work, even when it becomes difficult. With his award from the Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, he said it signifies his business’ ability to innovate, preserve and be visible in an area where people initially thought this type of business would not survive.

“It really validates the work we’ve done so far, and says we are an organization that is here to stay,” Vargas said. “My hope is that it will get more people to support and join us at our events, come down to the center and ensure that we’re able to have even more of an impact going forward.”

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