by Sherry Hu and Christina Arce

(KPIX 5) — For Students Rising Above alum Tyler Lu, spending a summer working with children at a farm is as close to perfect as it gets.

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“It’s really fun seeing this light bulb pop up,” he said as he taught archery kids at Hidden Villa Camp in Los Altos Hills. “If they finally get some hard concept you’ve been trying to explain.”

As a child, the Franklin & Marshall college student had to deal with a hard concept himself: his own family.

“My dad was an alcoholic and had a gambling problem,” he recalls. “It was loud. I mean, my parents screaming at each other all the time.”

Because his parents worked day and night, Tyler and his brothers were left to fend for themselves.

He said he barely knew them, and his childhood consisted of, “doing odd jobs with my brothers, eating and paying for fast food, scavenging for things to eat.”

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Then, in 6th grade, Tyler had his own light bulb moment. He discovered running.

“I remember running 14 miles one day in middle school because I got so angry,” he said.

The constant rhythm of his feet hitting the ground gave him time to think.  After his sophomore year in high school, Tyler left his family in Georgia to live with his cousins here in the Bay Area, a change he calls “a cherished decision.”

The decision set him upon a new life course. “I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said. “Probably wouldn’t be in college.”

Running has now become Tyler’s way to give back, such as his 49-day run from San Francisco to New York to raise money for young adults with cancer.

In addition, instead of returning to college this fall, Tyler decided on a gap year to stay on at Hidden Villa for an environmental education internship; another step in his goal to make it his life’s work.

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Camp Director Ke’ili Deal oversees the recruitment of interns and has worked with many Students Rising Above scholars and alumni. “By investing in people like Tyler, we’re investing in the future,” said Deal. “We’re investing in many generations of people that can imagine their world being just a little bit bigger.”