After graduation, seniors Patrick Maldonado and Sarai Rivera have their sights set on expanding their education beyond the walls of Clinton High School.
Thanks to the Juntos organization, the Latino students received a foundation for taking the next step. In the future Sarai Rivera plans to study zoology at North Carolina State University.
“I always liked animals, so I knew I wanted to do something with them,” Rivera said. “I just didn’t want to do pets like dogs and cats. I wanted to do more exotic animals.”
The program, which means “together” in Spanish, began in 2007 in Raleigh and is now active in several other states. More than 600 parents and students across the state are served by the program. Its overall purpose is to help students graduate from high school and have access to higher education. To help with the process, a mentoring system is in place for students to receive help with their studies.
Maldonado serves as the vice-president of the Juntos and Rivera does a lot of background work such as event planning.
“It’s a great thing for the community,” Maldonado said. “It targets students who are at risk of dropping out and it helps the community overall.”
Rivera feels the same way.
“I think it’s an excellent program for students who don’t have the support from their parents or from anyone,” Rivera said. “I think a lot of people think this club is just about school, but really it goes more into family too. We’re basically like family.”
Recently, college representatives of the club were honored at the White House and the club was named a “bright spot in Hispanic education.” Although Clinton High School students did not attend, fundraising in the future can make it possible for them to visit the nation’s capital.
“It demonstrates how big Juntos is getting,” Maldonado said about the visit. “Juntos is having a big impact on people lives and people realize that it needs to spread.”
Katherine Rivera, adviser for the organization and ESL (English as a Second Language) parent liaison, hopes to make the trip to Washington, D.C. next spring or summer.
“This is an opportunity for the students to see something that they would have never seen,” Rivera said while discussing the museums and monuments. “A lot of my parents work very long hours, so they don’t get vacations during the year. This would be a great opportunity for these kids to be immersed in history.”
In the meantime, the club will be busy hosting events such as the popular soccer club, which raises funds for the organization and a trip to N.C. State. A trip to Rockfish Camp, a leadership retreat, was sponsored by the Simple Gifts program.
Juntos has been active at Clinton High School and Sampson Middle School for about four years through the 4-H program. Including Hobbton High School students, the club has close 130 participants. Locally, Juntos originated at Hobbton and later reached CHS.
Rivera said Juntos is a family-oriented organization as well. Workshops are provided to parents to help in the education process. Right now, the program is currently conducting a middle school series, which is helping to prepare the students for middle school. The club’s family nights give parents a chance to mingle and interact with one another.
At the high school, students prepare for college the university tours and mentoring programs.
“It gives Latino students a club to identify as theirs,” Rivera said.
But she noted that students from different backgrounds are involved in the club as well. Currently, about 10 African-American students are currently members of the organization.
“It was meant to be for Hispanic students, but we realized that a lot of them bring friends with them,” she said about students wanting to join to receive academic assistance.
Students in the club are involved in community service projects. Some of projects include helping families during the holidays and donating gifts to organizations such as Enlighten The World Ministries. During Christmas, they gave presents to children. Last year one of the biggest events was a soccer tournament which attracted 500 people. Several teams from Sampson County and nearby counties participated in the activity.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.