He dreamed of an education, but couldn't afford it. Then, in a single day, his life changed.

He dreamed of an education, but couldn't afford it. Then, in a single day, his life changed.

Christian Ramirez is a community college graduate! On June 5, he crossed the stage at commencement ceremonies at East Los Angeles College (ELAC) to receive an Associate degree in Automotive Technology. It’s an amazing story of perseverance and personal belief. 

I grew, persevered, and graduated.

Byron Apen (the R.O.C.K. Church) grew up West Adams, just south of downtown Los Angeles. As a kid, things were tough. Byron's family had financial struggles. Hopelessness and violence plagued the neighborhood. In high school, Byron endured bullying. By the time he graduated, his family had moved seven times.

Byron dreamed of going to a 4-year college, but the odds were against him. In South Los Angeles, only 6% of the population has a Bachelor's degree. Poverty rates are double the national average. And then there's the psychological toll of it all. “Growing up in this neighborhood, you look up to athletes, actors, and rappers," Byron says. "People who've escaped their situation.”

In South Los Angeles, only 6% of the population has a Bachelor's degree. Poverty rates are double the national average.

But through his church, Byron found hope. 

His commitment to mentoring area youth at Antioch Church and World Impact made him a great fit for Ascending Lights. With his pastor's help, Bryon applied, was interviewed, and accepted into the program.

In 2014, he began classes at Pasadena City College. 

 Byron Apen (Antioch Church) during his final semester at Pasadena City College, 2016.

Byron Apen (Antioch Church) during his final semester at Pasadena City College, 2016.

"I was really nervous that first day on campus," Byron says. "I grew up with the mentality that community college was for people who didn't make it or weren't smart."

Ascending Lights made all the difference.

Byron's college costs were covered. He was paired with a mentor who taught him the skills necessary to succeed in community college. And his Christian leadership grew. By 2016, he completed more than 80 units of coursework, earned a 3.4 GPA, and graduated with an Associate degree 

“I did everything I could," Byron says, recalling his journey though community college. " I hit some barriers, I leaned on the Lord a lot, but Ascending Lights helped me grow, persevere and graduate. I enjoyed every bit of it!” 

 Byron Apen (Antioch Church) (right) with fellow graduate, Mario Guidos (left).

Byron Apen (Antioch Church) (right) with fellow graduate, Mario Guidos (left).

We’re proud of Byron Apen!

At Pasadena City College, he completed 80 units of coursework, graduated with an Associate degree in Social and Behavioral Science, and earned a 3.4 GPA.

Perhaps more importantly, Byron was and remains a shining example of community service and character. At the World Impact Teen Center (Downtown LA) he continues to volunteer as a youth minister. “At the Teen Center, I have 120 students for whom going to school and graduating is doing the impossible. But, now, seeing their role model succeed influences them to do it!”

“At the Teen Center, I have 120 students for whom going to school and graduating is doing the impossible. But, now, seeing their role model succeed influences them to do it!”

Byron is grateful to those who've championed and cheered him on as he’s pursued his dream. “Community is crucial for a college student,” Byron says. “For some it’s church, family, or friends. For me, it was all three—plus Ascending Lights.”

The program held him accountable for what he was learning, answered difficult questions, and related education to his faith. “And, most of all, it reminded me that I wasn’t alone,” Byron adds.

From the support of a mentor, to career counseling, to leadership training, Ascending Lights provided critical support.

“Community is crucial for a college student,” Byron says. “For some it’s church, family, or friends. For me, it was all three—plus Ascending Lights.”

“To those who give, please know that you’ve made a big difference in my community. And that impact is exponential. It’s created a ripple effect. The inspiration goes from me, to the students I serve, to the streets by word of mouth,” Byron says. “Your investment is a resource my community now and forever will have. Thank you!”

Byron Apen attends Cal State Los Angeles and continues to serve at Antioch Church and World Impact. He's studying Psychology and plans to work in urban ministry.

He Dreamed of UCLA.

He Dreamed of UCLA.

Daniel Torres is the embodiment of what it takes to succeed in community college. A Peruvian who immigrated to the U.S. at age 12, Daniel was in E.S.L. classes throughout grade school. Because of financial hardship, he left high school and worked to support his single mother. At 21, he earned a G.E.D.  and began working in sales. However, during the 2012 recession, Daniel was let-go by his employer and reached an important crossroad.