LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- When Carlos Cruz was 14 years old, he joined a street gang in the San Fernando Valley. He committed crimes, served time in juvenile hall, and was shot one New Year's Eve.
"I was shot when I was 18," Cruz said, "At that point, I just fell deeper into the hole."
But then, the transformation began.
Today, Cruz is a 27-year-old college graduate and about to enter the Ph.D. history program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
"I definitely encourage folks to keep an open mind, to chase their dreams, to take the advice of others, and to welcome and embrace encouragement," Cruz said. "And, when people tell you that you can do something, it's probably because you can do it."
Cruz was one of 36 at-risk students from Compton, Pacoima and South Los Angeles who received a college scholarship on Tuesday, with help from the El Nido Family Center.
Since 1992, the El Nido Family Center has funded 467 scholarships to students who have been a part of their program. The center helps young adults dealing with challenging circumstances like neglect, abuse, or gang violence.
Some of those students are like 18-year-old Alizeah Jackson. Both her father and stepfather died last year. Her mother struggled with drug addiction. Still, Jackson was determined to pursue a higher education and she now has a college scholarship.
"I am a high school graduate," Jackson said. "I will be attending Santa Monica College in the fall. I'm just so proud of myself for all the stuff that I overcome."
Jackson said her dream is to one day open her own foster care agency, with the hope of helping others secure a bright future.
At-risk LA students get pathway to college with El Nido Family Center scholarships