See who Duke's Coach K is giving $3 million to, and why

Cinthia Moncada Soto will never forget receiving her first college acceptance letter, especially the pride it stirred in her mother.

The 17-year-old, who graduated from Middle College High School at Durham Technical Community College last week, said her mother retrieved the letter from the mailbox thinking it was just another information packet that colleges send to prospective students.

"I opened it while she was standing next to me and she read, "'Congratulation!'" Moncada Soto said. "I can remember every detail about that moment, the way my mother smiled and told me how proud she was."

Moncada Soto will attend Guilford College in the fall on a full scholarship. She will be the first in her family to go to college in a household where neither parent graduated high school.

On Wednesday, Moncada Soto shared her story at the Emily Krzyzewski Center where Duke University's head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski announced the "Game Changer," a $15 million fundraising campaign for the center, which opened 12 years ago and is named in honor of his late mother.

The nonprofit helps low-income students with their homework, college applications, college entrance exams and other services.

"Without the Emily K Center, I would not be going to college," Moncada Soto said. "I really mean it when I say that. The Emily K Center has been my support for these past four years."

Krzyzewski also announced a personal gift of $3 million, the center's largest donation ever, that he and wife Mickie will contribute to the campaign. Including the $3 million, $8 million has already been raised toward the $15 million goal.

The remainder of the money, which will pay for a 4,500 square foot addition, establish a $4 million endowment and meet other needs, will be raised over the next two years.

"It's ... about making sure this is forever," Krzyzewski said. "Basically, if this was a game, we're winning, we could sit back and I could pull out a cigar and start saying we've already won. But this center isn't about what we've done, it's about what we're going to do."

First generation

Krzyzewski, a first-generation college student, pledged that the center will continue to support students in Durham by providing access to educational "gifts" they might not otherwise encounter.

"The resource that's least developed in our country is the development of opportunities for low-income kids who have enormous talents but not opportunities," Krzyzewski said. "We want to develop our resources in Durham and the resources in Durham know no race, no gender, no socio-economic background. It only knows talent, potential and the teamwork necessary to get it done."

Adam Eigenrauch, executive director of the Emily K Center said the $15 million gift will help many students reach their potential.

"The need for opportunity in our community is significant and pressing," he said. "Currently, only one in five low-income students in North Carolina will enroll in college, and in Durham Public Schools, two of every three students are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program."

Eigenrauch noted that nearly 85 percent of students in the center's K-College programs come from homes where the parents did not attend college.

"When they attend and graduate from college, they will be the first in their families to have done so," Eigenrauch said.

Leaps and bounds

The Emily K Center has grown by leaps and bounds since it opened in 2006 with a single after-school program that served 38 students. It's now home to four college-access programs attended by more than 500 students annually.

Valerie Anderson, director of programs at the center, said the fundraising campaigning is critical to helping the center fulfill its mission.

"When we accept a student into our programs, we're committed to helping them, especially as they're reaching that graduation milestone and crossing over into a college that's going to work for them," Anderson said. "We're really focused on college completion and not just cheering them on to high school graduation, which is important, but college completion is where the real crisis is for students from low-income backgrounds."

Leonel Rangel Jimenez, a rising senior at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, has attended programs at the center for the past three years. He said the center changed his life.

"Legitimately, this program has helped me a lot in terms of gaining access," Rangel Jimenez said. "My family just doesn't have the finances to take care of college expenses and by exposing me to different opportunities and giving me insight into what the process is, I think I've definitely gotten a head's up and an advantage over some of my peers who haven't attended this kind of program."

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645