This article is presented in partnership with CA Lottery.

Ask any successful person and they will invariably tell you the same thing: Someone, somewhere along the line, believed in them. Sometimes, it was a chorus of “you-can-do-its” that kept them on the right track. Other times, theirs will be an against-all-odds story, featuring one lone voice of encouragement. How many brilliant kids are left behind, never to live up to their full potential, because no one ever said the simple words, “you can”? In San Francisco, many teens who may have swelled those ranks are finding themselves breaking free from “I can’t,” because a non-profit organization devoted to making sure they do not fall through the cracks is telling them loud and clear, “you got this.”

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Changing the World, One Kid at a Time

The organization is Students Rising Above. Founded in 1998, their mission is to support low and middle-income kids in the San Francisco Bay area succeed and flourish in college, breaking the cycle of poverty and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

The students are some of California’s poorest. They face obstacles like homelessness, abuse, neglect, addiction and violence within their family or community. Many live well below the poverty line, are raising younger siblings without adult support, or have lived their lives within the foster care system.

Through an application process which requires a teacher’s recommendation, SRA seeks out underprivileged high school kids who are getting good grades and have shown strength of character, despite challenging circumstances not of their own making. Once accepted into the program, they are provided mentoring, financial support and career guidance on issues both large and small.

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Making a Difference

The results are astounding. One hundred percent of SRA students are accepted into four-year colleges and of that number, 90 percent go on to graduate. Bucking the recent trend of post-college unemployment and parental couch surfing, 93 percent of SRA college graduates have gone on to graduate school or meaningful careers within nine months of graduation. These statistics, impressive by any standard, take on new meaning when the stories of these young adults surface and their early hardships are unveiled.

Poised to do Great Things

They have last names like Kennedy, Lopez, Ngo and Jones. They represent a multitude of backgrounds and ethnicities but are tied together with one, distinct thread – the odds were against them ever going onto college, let alone achieving in life. They could have stayed invisible. Instead, they are poised and ready to make a difference of their own.

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Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at