Nonprofit brings joy to children through cultural exchange

In less than two weeks, countless mini-princesses, superheroes, witches and the like will take the streets of Columbus in search of quality candy. But what happens to the costumes after Halloween?

That was precisely the question Mayra Betances asked herself several years ago in New Jersey while watching the Halloween parade at her son's school. “I thought, ‘Nobody wants to be a pumpkin every year,'” Betances said during an early-October interview. “Most of us are fortunate enough to be able to buy a costume every year.”

Betances passed out flyers asking parents to donate their children's gently-used costumes. She collected two boxes to ship to underprivileged children in the Dominican Republic, where she grew up. The kids would be able to use them for the Carnival and Independence Day festivities in February.

“It's tradition to dress up in popular costumes and parade around villages and neighborhoods,” she said.

That was the origin of Create Happy Moments, a nonprofit Betances established after relocating to Columbus. The organization serves children through international cultural exchange. Betances still visits schools to collect costumes, but also provides a video presentation of how the costumes will be used overseas.

“The kids love it,” she said. “A lot of them get excited and they start telling me where their parents are from.”

Create Happy Moments also hosts regular storytelling events, which feature adults talking about their childhood activities and traditions.

“Children are amazed when they hear the stories,” Betances said. “We had this lady from El Salvador, and when we asked her what she did as a child, she said, ‘We crossed the border into Guatemala and jumped in the river.' Who beats that childhood experience?”

As a child in the Dominican Republic, Betances hunted lizards and played with plastic dolls. And she discovered the mud at drilling sites in her neighborhood functioned as a type of Play-Doh.

“We made objects like couches, TVs and houses for our dolls,” she said.

In addition to celebrating Carnival and Independence Day, Betances' family exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, and recognized Dia De Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).

“It's a way to remind ourselves of them and what we shared,” she said of the latter holiday, “And celebrate the life they did have with us.”

On Saturday, Oct. 20, Create Happy Moments will sponsor a more extravagant Day of the Dead Celebration in Green Lawn Cemetery, hosted by Latino Arts for Humanity. There will be decorations, food trucks, music and activities.

And next month Create Happy Moments will return to the area for its annual Caribbean Gala, a fundraising event at the Green Lawn Abbey mausoleum.

In the future, Betances hopes to expand education programming.

“It's a way for us to interact with different cultures,” she said of the organization. “[And] at the end of the day, to just be more accepting to the diversity we have around us.”