02/07/2013 02:19 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

Fighting Spirits: Students Overcoming Life's Hurdles to Achieve the College Dream

by Ngoc Tai, Volunteer Mentor, Students Rising Above

My husband, Eddie, and I are proud and honored volunteer mentors for four amazing students through Students Rising Above (SRA). Two are current first-year college undergraduates, and two are high school seniors.

Our involvement with SRA was inspired by an article in the "Oakland Tribune" about Indra Bahadur Karkia, a high school student in Oakland, California. He was born and raised in a refugee camp in Eastern Nepal. Inspired by the notion of freedom and opportunity, Indra's family immigrated to the United States. They were met with the struggles of daily life and the reality of living in a rough neighborhood. Shortly after their arrival, Indra was mugged two days in a row while walking to high school. The hardships of life continued, but Indra persevered, studied hard, and achieved a 4.0 GPA. He stayed positive and became a tutor for other refugee and immigrant teenagers.

Becoming SRA Mentors
Eddie was the first to get involved with Students Rising Above. He met with Kirsten McCarthy, SRA's Mentoring Program Coordinator. During their meeting, he talked about why he wanted to get involved with SRA--about wanting to help students from difficult backgrounds who have a passion for life, to overcome obstacles in realizing their dreams. He also discussed my background.

Being a Vietnamese refugee, I faced similar struggles to the SRA students while growing up in San Francisco. Kirsten saw an opportunity and suggested that I become a mentor, as well. Eddie encouraged me to read the stories on the SRA website. My heart melted and I wanted to be a mentor.

I was deeply touched by the students' stories as I can empathize with their backgrounds. I wanted to help play a part in molding these students who so passionately wanted to help themselves; to achieve their aspirations and ultimately pay it forward. The time commitment as a mentor is so little compared to the reward of seeing the difference we make in the life of our mentees.

A Comprehensive Network of Support
SRA provides stability, opportunities, and a complete devotion to each student in their program. From their senior year in high school, students are connected to professional SRA student advisor and volunteer mentors. We stay with them until they graduate from college. SRA helps students with college applications and scholarships; helps pay for fundamental needs such as food and clothing; conducts workshops to prepare them for job internships and interviews; provides a network to connect students with professionals in various career fields; and offers activities to teach students social skills. These are just a few of the services SRA provides.

In addition SRA's organized programs and services, our family spends personal time with our mentees. We engage in different activities such as exposing the students to new foods and restaurants, bowling, enjoying the latest movie releases, cooking together at our house, or just hanging out. We keep in touch with our mentees and exchange texts and emails. As mentors, we are here to provide some emotional and social support to our mentees in their journey through their senior year in high school, through college, and beyond.

Helping Students Prepare for the Job Market
This past year, I was invited to assist in an SRA workshop to help prepare third-year college undergraduates for job interviews. We taught them how to give a firm handshake and answer common interview questions. I also had the pleasure of guiding a fourth-year college undergraduate through a one-on-one mock interview in preparation for an internship interview with Oracle. We were ecstatic when he received the internship offer. Without SRA, these students would have limited (if any) resources to help prepare them for the reality of finding a job, especially in these challenging economic times.

Eddie and I feel blessed with the opportunity to be mentors with SRA, and fortunate to be able to help these students overcome some of life's hurdles so they may thrive with their own strengths and successes. We are touched by their stories and their courage and drive to achieve their dreams for a better future. We are humbled by their fighting spirits, and are honored to be their mentors; we learn from them as much as they learn from us. We have no doubt that SRA will continue in their quest to help change the lives of today's youths, so that we may create a better future for all our children.

Help SRA Help Others
SRA has helped hundreds of extraordinary young adults break the cycle of poverty through mentoring, college education, and job training. The more funding and awareness we raise, the more students we can help. Please visit our fundraising page on CrowdRise, and support our efforts to change the lives of hard-working young men and women in our country. Thank you.