Juntos Program prepares young Latino students for success through Copa Unidos

DSC00117About 100 students from the coast to the mountains of North Carolina are preparing for the fourth annual Copa Unidos soccer tournament. College students as well as students ranging from eighth to 12th grade from Sampson, Wayne, Yadkin, Wake and Forsyth counties will participate in the tournament.  Located on NC State’s Miller Fields April 16, the competitors will play relentlessly until the tournament champions achieve the esteemed first-place prize, a custom NC State 3-D printed trophy cup.  The goal of the sponsors, Juntos and the Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences, is that all the students will obtain the real prize of the event, the opportunity to see a university and inspire them to see college as a reality.

Juntos was established in 2007 from NC State’s Cooperative Extension and has been praised by the White House in 2015 while continuing to expand nationally. The program, in coordination with 4-H, provides eighth to 12th grade Latino students and their parents the knowledge and resources to promote high school graduation and higher education. “The objective of Copa Unidos is to get kids from the different counties to come together, share their experiences, to play soccer and to engage with one another,” said David Rashidi, a senior studying technology, engineering and design education and the leader for the Copa Unidos event. Juntos director and program coordinator in the Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences, Juana Hernandez-Urquiza, said this tournament is great for many young students because sports and soccer motivates them. “We know that soccer, but also the aspect of community, is common interests for many Latino families,” Hernandez-Urquiza said. “Copa Unidos is not just about the soccer but also about unity. It is a fun atmosphere where students have the opportunity to visit a university and get more comfortable in that environment while networking with current college students.” In planning the event, Rashidi said the coordinators are organizing teams made up of 10 members. The Juntos youth from the different counties will be mixed up, and at least three college students will be paired to each team. College students from Meredith College, Appalachian State University, UNC-Wilmington, Durham Tech, Sampson Community College, East Carolina University and NC State have come to participate in the games in the past. This year, the organizers are trying to have some of the NC State varsity and club soccer players become involved in the tournament as well. “I believe the Juntos youth will have a powerful experience,” Rashidi said. “I know when I met my mentee, he was shy and kept to himself. You can see the passion he has for soccer and sports in general, so when he plays you can see him open up. Through soccer, everyone starts to open up more and more, as it is a common bond.”  For those not interested in playing soccer, other activities will be available surrounding the tournament. University Recreation will be providing workshops such as Zumba and TRX as alternate activities. In addition, there is hope to have other Latino organizations on campus such a Sube Ritmos, Mi Familia, Lambda Theta Phi and Lambda Pi Chi in attendance to spend time with the students. Rashidi said this annual tournament is important because it allows college students to build relationships with middle and high school students to educate them about college. “The ultimate goal is to get kids thinking about college and to be exposed to college,” Rashidi said. “Many of these students don’t think they have the potential to go to college, and many Latino parents are unwilling or scared to send their children to college because they don’t know what it is.  “Speaking from my experience, I am the first generation of my family to go to college. I will have paid for five years of school by myself with the help of scholarships and financial aid, and that has been huge for me. It is great to be able to share my story and connect with these students on that level. I see a lot of myself in these kids and can relate to them.” Rashidi’s example of connecting and being a role model is just what Hernandez-Urquiza said she hopes to see happen at Copa Unidos. “The biggest impact is that students come to the university and see that other Latinos attend college,” Hernandez-Urquiza said. “They leave with the mentality that they can do it too.” Hernandez-Urquiza said that as the Juntos team and the Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences organize this event, they are hoping to recruit more volunteers and college participants in the tournament as they prepare for this to be the largest Copa Unidos has ever been. There is a small $10 registration fee for the tournament that goes toward scholarships for students, but all are welcome to get involved.