RIVERSIDE (KPIX) — Family is important when we face tough times, but when we don’t have family to lean on, friendship can help us keep things together.

Students Rising Above Scholar Diana Custodio found both on her way to success. On a recent Zoom call, Custodio caught up with her friend Jessica Wenzel. The two laughed about each other’s “pandemic” hair styles among other topics.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Alameda County Omicron Variant Outbreak Victims Attended Wisconsin Wedding Last Weekend

It’s the kind of online interaction many of us have had during the last two years, but this call in particular was special. Wenzel is a college advisor for Students Rising Above and Custodio is one of the 24 students she has worked with since 2014. Wenzel says she still remembers the first time the two met in person.

“We met at a Starbucks near her house,” recalled Wenzel. “You could see, she was very quiet, like reserved. That was kind of her personality. But you could see that beneath that, there was so much, like so much.”

Sitting across from Wenzel that long ago day at Starbucks was a shy rising high school senior still reeling from the shock at being selected as a SRA scholar. At that time, Diana Custodio was also keeping her acceptance into the program a secret from everyone, including her family.

“I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t think I was going to get in,” said Custodio. “I was like, very scared of, like. how do I tell this to my mom.”

Custodio, a first-generation college hopeful, was also struggling with parental and cultural expectations that included work, but not higher education. Her family’s potential reaction to her college plans made Custodio cautious.

READ MORE: Porsche Theft Suspect Arrested On Docked Cruise Ship; Three Illegal Bay Area Chop Shops Busted

“I am a first-generation college student. I didn’t grow-up with, like, seeing anyone else going to college,” explained Custodio. “So I was like, ‘Everyone in my family works hard. So I am just going to work hard.’ Nobody really gave me the conversation [on college], I think.”

Custodio says she did have friends at the time who urged her to apply to SRA. But she also admits no one was more committed to speaking with her about college than Wenzel. Through countless conversations, Wenzel offered encouragement and guidance to Custodio, first seeing her through senior year in high school, then the college application process and finally graduation from UC Riverside.

It’s a journey that includes joyful celebration over Custodio’s first job and apartment in Los Angeles. The pair’s Zoom call also included a special introduction. Wenzel is a new mom, with a seven-month-old baby girl, who Custodio has only seen in photographs. Both jumped on the call to say hello to Custodio, a young woman Wenzel says she now considers family.

“It’s like she’s just been added to the family right,” said Wenzel. “And she’s just joined the family. It’s really great to bring those two worlds together.”

Custodio agrees and says she will head home to the Bay Area soon so she can meet Wenzel’s daughter in person. the two women say they see their relationship lasting a lifetime.

MORE NEWS: One-In-Four Sonoma County Children Ages 5-To-11 Partially Vaccinated Against COVID

“She was there for me at my lowest,” said Custodio. “I remember there were many times when I told her, I don’t think I can make it this far. I don’t think I am meant to be here. And she would always reassure me, ‘Diana, it doesn’t matter what you are going to do. You are going to be great at it.'”