FORT BENNING, Ga., (Sept. 21, 2016) -- The Tri-City Latino Association held the 4th annual Tri-City Latino Festival Sept. 17 at the Columbus Civic Center.

"This festival was created by Harold "Lefty" Encarnacion and myself," said Mimi Woodson, the chair of the Tri-City Latino Festival Association. "Lefty is no longer here with us today. He passed away last year.

"It started as a block party at Lefty's business. He asked me to help him expand and I came up with the idea for a festival. Today we celebrate in his memory."

"We'll be giving out 10 scholarships to the Liberty Theatre for children who may have otherwise not had the opportunity to go. We'll also be giving out five scholarships to the Springer Opera House," Woodson continued.

Woodson explained that the concept behind the festival is to bring people together of all walks and help them understand the Latin culture.

It's not specific to only Mexicans. There are 21 other countries. There will be an educational portion to the festival at first, then everyone will celebrate with music and food, added Woodson.

Columbus Mayor Theresa Tomlinson welcomed the crowd, saying, "Four years ago this was just a dream. It was a vision of Mimi Woodson and some others in our community that saw that it was time for us to come together to celebrate just how broad we are."

"This is fantastic," added Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, the commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence.

"The population of the U.S. Army includes 17 percent of those who are of Latino heritage and every culture has a distinct nature to it that we can celebrate. One of the things I love about our Latino Soldiers is their passion and fervor for life. And that, woven into the strength of the American Army, leads us to have some of the greatest Soldiers coming from this community and this culture," he continued.

Wesley addressed the community as well, saying, "Thank you for embracing our Soldiers and integrating them into your community."

Mille Del Toro, a Tri-City Latino Festival Association board member, was responsible for the Kids Zone from noon to 5 p.m. during the festival.

"It's been an honor to be a part of this. All four years I've been on the board. This was a dream of Mimi and Lefty. All of us follow along with them," said Del Toro.

Terri Rhodes, the director of Volunteer Services at Columbus Hospice, was excited to be part of the festival.

"This is our third time attending the Tri-City Latino Festival. We want to let people know about our nonprofit community hospice in the area and try to solicit some volunteers," she said.

"Each year, we look forward to the energy of the crowd that comes in. Last year, we even got a few people to volunteer," Rhodes added.
It's nice to be out learning about another culture. It's really eye opening, said Kristen Patterson.

Patterson was there representing the River Center for Performing Arts, one of the Tri-City Latino Festival's sponsors.

Robert Moore, the Columbus State University men's basketball coach, thought it would be a good idea for the men and women's basketball teams to come out and show their support.
It's always nice for the school to come out and support anything that the Columbus community is doing, he said.

Columbus State University was the Tri-City Latino Festival's co-presenting sponsor.