No one in Juan Miguel's family had ever gone to college, but he knew he would. He just needed outside help with learning how to apply and which classes to take to get into college.
As a sophomore at Estancia High School, he joined the academic program at Save Our Youth (SOY) and received the guidance and encouragement he needed to push himself to excel and take advanced classes.
SOY even helped him financially by rewarding him for good grades, which also made him a more competitive college applicant.
"For me, getting paid money for grades made me feel good," said Miguel, now 22 and studying architectural engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "If I got a lot of money, I got better grades.
"It motivated me to take more advanced classes ... just because I wanted to get more money for college and get more college credit."
SOY was created in 1993 in response escalating gang problems at the time on Costa Mesa's Westside. Over the years the organization, which maintains a center on the Rea Elementary School campus, has evolved to steer hundreds of first-generation students toward college.