The Lapan Sunshine Foundation is an organization that helps support low-income students in South Tucson, one of the poorest zip codes in the state of Arizona. The high poverty rate and the amount of households with incarcerated parents make it difficult for kids in the area to go to college.
That is where the Lapan Foundation comes in. As described by their CEO, former ASU softball player Jackie Vasquez-Lapan, the Foundation is a private boys and girls club that helps provide funds to support these kids through school so they can attend college.
Besides supporting the kids through their educational journey, they provide several resources to help them become better people. They do this through camps, providing mentors, teaching “Lapan Values,” and offering athletic programs for the kids to participate in when they are not in school. This is where the ASU athletes make their mark.
Current graduate assistant and former ASU softball standout Yannira Acuña was in her senior year when she partnered with the Lapan Foundation. This was around the same time NIL became possible in college sports. Acuña, like the kids the Lapan Foundation works with, is from South Tucson and is a first-generation college student. For these reasons, Acuña was selected as the first Lapan NIL athlete.
“Yanni (Acuña) was our prototype of what all our NIL athletes should become,” Vasquez-Lapan said. “We started with her because her being a Tucson native really just made sense. ... Like myself, she's a first-generation college student, and she actually grew up in the neighborhood that we serve.”
After the success that the foundation had with Acuña, they expanded to the rest of the softball team. Since starting their NIL partnership, the foundation has partnered with over 65 athletes in the ASU softball and football programs, including junior running back Cam Skattebo. Even though they mainly partner with Sun Devil athletes, there have been a few athletes from UA and GCU who have partnered with the foundation.
Foundation-partnered athletes are required to work a minimum of 10 hours a semester. They complete tasks such as working at summer camps, cleaning clubhouses, and mentoring the kids.
Even though the foundation has partnered with many athletes, Acuña and her family have continued to be very important and involved with the foundation. Last year, Acuña's younger sister, Yannixa Acuña, joined the ASU softball team and partnered with the Lapan Foundation like her sister did.
Vasquez-Lapan hopes to be seen as family and an essential part of the lives of every partner athlete.
“We hope (the athletes) become more than a business transaction,” Vasquez-Lapan said. “We really want (them) to look at us as family — and that's what's really great about NIL. It opens up the door for us to get to do more and really, truly get to know them better as individuals on and off the field."
This idea of family can be seen in athletes besides the softball athletes they partner with. Redshirt sophomore Adama Fall, a defensive back from Senegal who plays on the ASU football team, expressed not only how important the foundation is to him but also how it feels like family.
“Oh man, the foundation means everything to me, really. The foundation stands for family,” Fall said. “It's just family to me. It's an opportunity that I would never turn down, and it's something that I hope to work so hard to be in a position to even make it bigger, and positively impacting somebody will last longer than any materialistic things. So, for me, it represents family and opportunity.”
The foundation's NIL partnerships prioritize building a family environment with those it aids and making a lasting impact on their lives. This partnership with ASU athletes gives the kids role models and people to look up to, something some kids lack.
“We're an inspiration for the kids, and the kids really look up to us,” Yannira Acuña said. “That's why Jackie really tries to promote being a good person, being a good athlete, and having good grades because those kids look up to us.”
Besides being a mentor, ASU athletes also help coach the Lapan Foundation's sports programs and run the camps. This past summer, Yannira Acuña was the director of the camp, where she organized the equipment, scheduled everything, and made sure the kids involved had a safe and fun experience.
Besides the summer camps, the foundation has sports programs for the kids. Adama Fall has played an essential role in their soccer program as a coach and source of encouragement for the kids involved.
“I grew up playing soccer out in the streets of Senegal,” Fall said. “My friends and I used to do that every morning. So, it's not something new to me. I play soccer for fun, and being able to run around with the kids that's what it's all about. And now that I'm in season, all I could do is just send them text messages here and there and just remind them that I'm still thinking about them."
Not only does this NIL partnership help the kids of South Tucson, but it is also a partnership that is very beneficial and life-changing to the athletes. This past spring, Yannira Acuña won a Wings of Gold award, an award honoring the most successful female athlete in the school. This award considers a recipient's academics, athletics, sportsmanship and commitment to the community.
“I wasn't expecting it, but it was good to have Jackie and Dave (Lapan) support through all that,” Yannira Acuña said. “I mean, they're the reason why I won it, because of all the charity work, let alone me being an athlete with my accolades these past two years, that had something to do with it too, but it also accounted for being a good human being, a good teammate and doing a lot of like charity work and giving back to my community.”
The NIL partnership with ASU athletes and the Lapan Foundation has impacted many people in its short lifespan, both Sun Devil athletes and kids living in South Tucson. It’s all because of the Lapan Family’s love of ASU softball, their desire to give back to the community, and a first-generation college student who grew up in the South Tucson community.
“I wish I would have had it when I was growing up because it really does change people's lives,” Yannira Acuña said. “And I think that Dave (Lapan’s) mom has done a phenomenal job of starting this foundation and helping others, especially in South Tucson, allowing those students to go to college because many of them are first-generation college students like myself. So I think it's just awesome to have that opportunity."
Edited by Vincent DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.