SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – In one of San Francisco’s toughest neighborhoods, Student Rising Above Vivan San has carved out her own place for peace and the pursuit of an education.

In San Francisco’s Tenderloin, where San lives, there is an average of three crimes an hour, but inside the Boys and Girls club, opportunities grow.

“For me, and I know for a lot of these kids, the programs like the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club was like the only refuge these kids have,” said San.

It’s been a second home for Vivian San, the child of immigrants. San’s father was a farmer in Vietnam and came here to find a better life. Her parents work hard in a small family business, but the Tenderloin is the only place they can afford to live.

“It’s just so hard to see my parents,” said San. “I know that they never imagined or even planned to live in the Tenderloin but they didn’t have many options.”

Growing up among the homeless and the drug dealers, “I felt like a prisoner,” said San. “I was scared but I didn’t want to show that I was scared because if I did then I would be more likely to get victimized.”

Unfortunately, being scared took all her energy.

Then San got a break, a scholarship through the Achieve Program to go to Mercy High. Mercy High was small, private and supportive and that allowed a scared, quiet girl to change.

“To watch her blossom like is incredible,” said Linda Perez. “When I first met Vivian it was hard to get her to say more than 3 words. Now, you just ask her a question and she elaborates on it.”

Vivian San has a 4.1 GPA, better than perfect.

“My parents were never able to go to college,” said San. “And for me to have this opportunity to go to college, I just can’t believe it.”

Vivian San wants to become a pediatrician, and work with kids from the Tenderloin.

“It comes straight from the heart and it’s so natural for her,” said Linda Perez. “It’s just natural for her to give.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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