DLALAS — On the Oak Cliff site that once housed the original 7-Eleven store, LULAC is trying to save a generation — one young mind at a time.
This is where 72 middle school students come to meet mentors like Danny Rodriguez, an aspiring firefighter with a degree in architecture. Rodriguez worries about the temptations that today's teenagers face.
"There’s so many opportunities to go down the wrong path," he said. "It’s great to have a mentor to help guide you along the way."
"He's cool," said Hector, the 13-year-old Rodriguez has been helping.
But now, the mentoring program is in jeopardy.
Last year, the center ran on a $90,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department, part of a $500,000 grant funding similar programs nationwide.
Program director Otis Gray said he expected more money this school year. "We assumed it would get refunded, renewed," he said. "Then, bam! Last week, it's like, 'We're sorry, it's not gonna happen.'"
That news put Gray in a mad scramble for funds. The program targets Greiner Middle School, right next door, hoping to stop kids from making the bad choices that can cripple a future.
"I ask the principal or assistant principal, 'Who are the kids you are having the most problems with?' These are the ones we want to work with," Gray said.
Mentors like Vida Tule know all about the struggles these kids face.
"I’m the first one in my family to finish college," she said. "My parents didn’t even finish middle school."
Tule is now heading to Columbia University for a masters degree, and has her mentee Pamela Majia convinced she can do the same.
"If she can do it, I can do it," said the 13-year-old eighth grader.
The mentors are raising their own money now; Gray said it's the only choice. "We didn't feel it was right to get up and walk out," he said. "We didn't want to be another set of grownups that were abandoning these kids we've pledged ourselves to."
The organization is still $10,000 short of what they need to keep the doors open.