02/22/2013 05:21 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

Making a Difference: Power Though Knowledge and College Education

By Josué Hernández, SRA Alumnus, Students Rising Above

Recently my 12-year-old nephew began to improve in school. When I asked him how he did it he said, "You made me believe in myself." That's what Students Rising Above (SRA) did for me, and what I resolve to pass on to others.

My name is Josué Hernández, and I can now confidently say I am a person with determination and a strong character. That wasn't always the case. I needed to learn how to overcome many life obstacles. Learning how to overcome them has made me into a better person, because I know that no matter how BIG the challenge is, I can rise above.

At age six, I crossed the Mexican border with my mother. My parents had a violent relationship. When I was in seventh grade, my mother started taking drugs, leaving my sister and me on our own. I moved to the Bay Area with my father, but like my mother, he eventually abandoned me too.

I was too young to battle life. At age 13, I had lost everything--no family, no mother and no father. My faith was lost, and my world demolished. I was literally wandering and lost. A security guard took me under her wing and offered me a place to live in her house, without even knowing me. However, I was not able to legally continue to live with her and entered the foster care system. I was not sure what I wanted to do in life, but by doing well in school, I was accepted into Students Rising Above. With their wonderful mentorship program, I was able to change my life.

From Oakland to UC Santa Barbara
SRA showed me that college was possible and guided me through the application process. When I was accepted to UC Santa Barbara, I realized how fortunate I was to receive such an amazing educational experience. I became involved in promoting education among youth with similar backgrounds to my own. I was committed to giving them hope, and to helping them believe in themselves--something that SRA taught me.

On day I had lunch with the founder of SRA, Wendy Tokuda, whom I see as one of my role models. She, in a sense, provided that spark. I asked myself, "If she could create an amazing scholarship program for deserving students, could I also do the same?"

I decided to start my own scholarship foundation at UC Santa Barbara called Power Through Knowledge Scholarship Foundation, which supports prospective university scholars (regardless of citizen status) who are committed to higher education and their communities, but who have financial hardships. We started to promote education, empower students, and provide support. We raised funds through dances, galas, and selling tacos on campus. Within three years, we raised $45,000 for scholarships.

Reading the stories of students who applied to Power Through Knowledge scholarships made me appreciate my own life. Their stories helped me to understand that sometimes the obstacles we overcome can help change this world. They helped restore my hope.

By age 23, thanks to what I had learned through SRA, I was able to complete one of my dreams; helping students rise above their challenges and showing them how to give back to their communities. At our annual Power Through Knowledge scholarship ceremony, I give our recipients something simple but thoughtful, a small treasure box. Inside I place a seed and I ask recipients to remember that no matter how long it takes for them, they too can plant a seed in someone else's life. They too can make a difference.

Entering to the Real World of Work
With the help of SRA, I received financial support to help pay for college and participated in an internship program at a non-profit organization called Operation Access. The internship taught me how to operate in a work environment.

I knew I wanted to do something to help others, and to work in the educational field. But when the time came to apply for a "real" job, it was a stressful situation. I realized I needed help to find a job. Interviews weren't leading to jobs. SRA's team rallied around me. I got tactical support and encouragement. They taught me how to create an effective resume and cover letter, and gave me interview tips. With their help, I got the job! Currently I am working at a community college in the Office of Student Life, a position in which I can grow professionally

SRA is not just a mentorship or financial aid program. They help on a deeper level. SRA is a family that I will always count on. I'm blessed to receive such amazing support from SRA. Without them I wouldn't be where I am today. Now I must make a difference in someone else's life.

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.