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DALLAS - Formany students, the challenges of graduating from high school is a daunting task, especially if they don't have a lot of support. But, there is a program in West Dallas that is helping students achieve their dreams.

It's all smiles and hugs for Mike Vasquez and Terry Watson. Vasquez credits the retired dentist for giving him direction in life.

I call Terry my Mapsco, he said. He was my guide to the ultimate dream, which was to graduate high school.

Watson helped Vasquez with that dream. He mentored him from seventh grade until he graduated from Skyline High School in 1997. Vasquez then became the first member of his family to graduate from college, earning a diploma from Southern Methodist University in 2002. He also played basketball for the Mustangs and dreamed of making it to the NBA.

Just in case that professional career doesn't play out, we're going to fall back on this plan B, Watson said. So, I was always plan B, and it turned out it was probably the best thing.

Watson and Vasquez teamed up at the Trinity River Mission's Believe and Achieve mentoring program. Each student that graduates from the program earns a $2,500 scholarship for college. The program has a nearly 100 percent graduation rate of students that stick with it, compared to a less than 50 percent graduation rate for West Dallas kids who are not part of the program.

It's precious, Vasquez said. It's priceless, I believe too. I mean, the kids who don't get to experience what I went through, I really felt bad for them because ... there are a lot of kids that really need help, but there are not just enough resources to help them.

At the start of this school year there are just 13 mentors for 157 students.

Vasquez is now a branch manager for Chase Bank.

E-mail: cflanagan@wfaa.com

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