By CBS3 Staff


PHILADELPHIA  (CBS) – For some, the journey to college is not always an easy one. But an organization in Philadelphia is helping some first-generation college students break down the barriers that keep them from getting a higher education.

If anyone understands what it means to take a leap of faith, it’s Lestine Paye and her family.

“My parents were born in Liberia, so was I,” Paye said. “My parents and I moved here when I was 11 years old for better opportunities.”

Part of that meant getting a college degree in the United States, thousands of miles from home.

That sacrifice finally paying off with Paye graduating from Upper Darby High School thanks to a non-profit program called College Possible.

“Graduating from high school was a really, really huge deal for my parents,” Paye said. “They were so proud, they were just happy to see me graduate.”

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Paye was one of 150 high school juniors and seniors celebrating their path to college at Temple University on Saturday.

The organization makes university dreams a reality for low income high school students through coaching and support.

That includes SAT prep and college applications.

“College Possible helped me with a lot of scholarships,” Paye said. “Sometimes it was hard looking for scholarships, so they would tell me this is a scholarship that’s available, you can apply for that.”

“They helped me emotionally too because there were some times I was going through stuff at home, at school with friends and I couldn’t talk to my parents at times so I went to my coach and he’d help me a lot,” Paye added.

A process that Paye says her family cold not always help with.

“They didn’t really know the whole system,” she said.

The Philadelphia chapter of College Possible is currently helping about 2,000 students get into college and stay there once they’re enrolled.

“Ninety-nine percent of high schoolers we work with have been admitted into college,” College Possible Philadelphia executive director Jen Weikert said.

Some of them are first-generation college students.

“I was first generation college student myself,” Weikert said, “and I didn’t have the support, my family didn’t really have the support to understand the process so to be able to demystify this for 150 students in the region is pretty fantastic.”

Paye is headed to Penn State University in the fall, but she is already looking beyond the bachelors degree.

“I want to get my medical degree and become an anaesthesiologist,” she said.

Closing the degree divide one student at a time.

College Possible’s Philadelphia chapter will celebrate its first college graduates next year.

CBS3’s Crystal Cranmore reports.