April 8, 2017 marked the date of the 5th-Annual Copa Unidos event, which was hosted by the Juntos Program this year on North Carolina State University’s Miller Fields. Juntos, which means “Together” in Spanish, aims to motivate Latino students to graduate from high school and attend higher education. One of the ways that the Juntos Program achieves this is by hosting an annual soccer tournament that draws in participants from middle school, high school, and colleges throughout the state of North Carolina. The event encourages middle school and high school youth of diverse backgrounds to come together, interact with college students, listen to guest speakers, and get a dose of the college experience. This year, the event brought together over 200 participants from the North Carolina counties of Buncombe, Catawba, New Hanover, Pender, Sampson, Wake, Wayne, and Yadkin. The support from the planning committee and the immense turnout of students of all ages, parents, volunteers, and participating colleges has made this the most successful Copa Unidos event to date.
The clearing of the early Saturday morning haze and the arrival of students signaled the commencement of the kick-off to the Copa Unidos event. The day began with inspirational speeches from two first-generation graduate students, Brenda Escutia and Ray Person. Each discussed their trials and tribulations of growing up as first-generation, Latino college students and how they defiantly overcame obstacles to persevere and earn their spots in their respective graduate school programs. For many students listening, these speeches hit particularly close to home, as many of the middle school and high school students enrolled in the Juntos program are also first-generation Latinos who are seeking higher education. After hearing the guest speakers, one student said: “They give you another point of view…another perspective. It is hard out there, but they made it; therefore, I can make it. I can succeed, I can strive, I can do whatever I put my mind into.”
These inspirational speeches further invigorated the students, and the palpable excitement of the beginning of the soccer tournament began to spread throughout the field. Game after game, teams composed of both grade school and college students worked together to compete in the chance to take home the much-coveted trophy in honor of their county. It was an electrifying experience – team captains, coaches, and parents cheered loudly and filled the air with words of encouragement to the teams. In addition to the soccer tournament, non-playing students and eliminated students partook in a tour of NC State University’s Campus, team-building activities, as well as Salsa and Bachata dance lessons. The dance lessons proved to be hugely popular, and the contagious dance spirited drifted onto the soccer field. Many took to blasting music and enjoyed festive dancing while the soccer tournament progressed in the background. As the day winded down, the zealous and buoyant atmosphere remained as non-players and defeated teams came together to watch the final match between the still standing Sampson County and Wake County. Although the final two counties played arduously and admirably, it was Sampson County who took the trophy home and was declared champion of the 2017 Juntos Copa Unidos soccer tournament!
The continued success of Copa Unidos is all due to the immense support of all who believe in the underlying message that the Juntos Program sends by hosting the event at North Carolina State University. The message is a simple, but impactful, one to Latino students: “this is your space — you belong here, too.” By exposing young students to a university campus, the Juntos program is aiming to normalize the college experience for Latino students, many of which are setting foot onto a college campus for the very first time. This event full of fun activities brings together students of different background, builds a sense of community, and provides middle school and high school students the opportunity to network with college students and learn about the necessary steps needed to reach and succeed on their journey towards higher education.
Juntos, which means “together” in Spanish, is more than just a title – it is a core concept that brings everyone together to provide enriching and empowering experiences to Latino students
We would like to thank the following universities and colleges for helping make this year’s Copa Unidos an immense success: Appalachian State University, Durham Technical Community College, Forsyth Technical Community College, Johnston Community College, Kaplan University, Meredith College, NC State University, Sampson Community College, University of Mount Olive, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke, UNC-Wilmington
Another special thanks to everyone that contributed to the Juntos Scholarship, a scholarship that is awarded to selected Juntos Scholarship applicants to aid in their pathway to higher education. This year, we received a generous donation of $500 from Ramon Ruiz-Esparza, an NC State Alumnus who believes in the message that Juntos spreads by hosting Copa Unidos. Combined, a total of $800 was raised in donations for the 2017 Juntos Scholarship!
Partnerships with community members, partners, and all that believe in the Juntos mission are what continue to make this program a success. Thank you to each and all who continue to support the program.