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Stepping over the Memminger Auditorium threshold for YEScarolina’s A Night at the Coppa gala felt a bit like being magically transported for a one-night vacation. The hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston slipped away as glamorously-attired guests swarmed through the courtyard into the beautifully decorated space. Warm, red lights created a festive but comfortable vibe while the tantalizing smell of Cuban-inspired hors d’oeuvres had partygoers lining up for the tasty bites from Halls Chophouse.

Charlestonians rubbed elbows and perused the silent auction over cocktails, but YEScarolina’s featured young entrepreneurs stole the show with their concepts. Each student showcased a business concept at their respective tables, and the savvy youngsters were more than happy to explain the ins and outs of their business plans.

The cocktail hour flew by and soon sequin-decked salsa dancers appeared at the front of the stage. Guests were invited to find their tables while the dancers whirled and twisted about to Latin beats. The evening’s main entertainment, a fabulous performance by local Latin jazz/Salsa group Tumbao, kicked off as everyone took their seats. Vocalist Leah Suarez enthralled the crowd for the first half of the concert, and soon steaming platters of mouth-watering Caribbean-inspired food were being passed around each table.

As guests enjoyed the last of the savory bites, YEScarolina founder and executive director Jimmy Bailey introduced special guest Zoe Damacela. Damacela, a sophomore at Northwestern University and the mind and talent behind Zoe Damacela Apparel, took top honors at the NFTE Chicago Citywide Business Plan Competition, and then went on to place 2nd in the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. Damacela spoke to the crowd with candor and grace about the difficulties of growing up in a financially challenged single parent home and the business plan behind her eponymous fashion line. “Every girl that made fun of me growing up? They were buying dresses from me for the prom!” Damacela laughed.

After some inspiring words for YEScarolina’s young entrepreneurs, Bailey and Damacela ceded the stage to Tumbao, whose lively sounds had guests tapping their toes while dessert was served. It was a sweet ending to a wonderful night benefiting non-profit YEScarolina, the only organization in the state of South Carolina dedicated to teaching youth the principles of entrepreneurship and free enterprise. YEScarolina has trained and certified over 500 South Carolina teachers on the subject of entrepreneurship, and offers entrepreneurship training to South Carolina public school teachers free of charge.

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