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 struggles, he left high school and worked to support his single mother.

At 21, he earned a G.E.D. (high school equivalency) and began working in sales. However, during the 2012 recession, Daniel was let-go by his employer and reached an important crossroad. He felt like something was missing. What am I meant to be? he wondered. Will I ever reach my potential?” 

In 2014 Daniel joined Ascending Lights. At age 29, he’d spent years as a dedicated youth leader at Rios de Agua Viva, a small Pentecostal church in South Gate. To provide for his mother and grandmother, he worked while studying full-time at East Los Angeles College (ELAC). He says he often experienced stress and wondered if he was a failure. “In the beginning, I felt like I was lost,” Daniel says. “I had to learn how to write papers, how to be organized, structure my thoughts, and utilize resources.”

Over two-years with Ascending Lights, Daniel competed 124-units at ELAC, including an incredible 8 courses in English.

When there were setbacks, patience and persistence kept him moving. “Because I grew up without a dad, I had to learn to advocate for myself,” Daniel says. “When people say no, I’ve learned to be persistent and continue asking until I get the answer I’m seeking.”

As a student, Daniel was accepted into numerous prestigious programs in/around campus including: the Puente Project, UCLA's Center for Community College Partnerships, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the East Los Angeles College Honors Program, ELAC’s Pathway to Law School, and Ascending Lights.

“ There are other religious programs out there, but this was the first program I found that was both connected to my faith and educational, ” Daniel says.

There are other religious programs out there, but this was the first program I found that was both connected to my faith and educational,” Daniel says.

From mentoring, to math and english tutoring, to financial support to cover the cost of meals and school supplies, Ascending Lights removed the barriers that might have prevented Daniel from completing community college.

In June, 2017 Daniel walked in commencement at East Los Angeles College. He received Associate’s degrees in Spanish and Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Social Science helped me to understand the society in which I live where we have a mixture of so many cultures,” Daniel says.

“In the future, I want to help those who are underrepresented in higher education—not just Latinos but anyone who’s a non-traditional student. Those who’ve gone though hard things without a mom or dad, without money, or access to education. Those like myself who’ve struggled to get ahead because of lack of resources, mentorship, or guidance.”

Daniel has been accepted at U.C.L.A., Cal State University, Loyola Marymount, and Whittier College. However, he’s chosen U.C. Santa Barbara and its Chicano Studies program for the exciting next step in his journey. In the future, he plans to pursue a Master’s of Social Work or possibly enter law school.

“People say that if you work hard in America, you’ll make it. But that’s just one part of the equation,” Daniel says. “Students also need specific types of support to succeed in College. And Ascending Lights gave me what I needed. Thank you.”