by Michelle Griego and Jennifer Mistrot

A group of anonymous donors, moved by the stories of students who overcame the most difficult circumstances to succeed in their academic and professional careers, gave hundreds of them a mind-blowing gift that could take them to even higher levels high.

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For more than 20 years, the nonprofit Students Rising Above (SRA), co-founded by former KPIX 5 presenter Wendy Tokuda, has provided disadvantaged students with financial assistance, college preparation, internships, career advice and more. Now, the non-profit organization has announced another incredible milestone. Anonymous donors have given a life-changing gift for about 400 SRA graduates, providing up to $ 8 million to pay off their college debt.

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Executive Director Elizabeth Devaney informed the students with a surprise announcement during a Zoom video call.

“What I want to share with you tonight is that the anonymous donors of the SRA have given us a remarkable gift,” Devaney explained. ” [It’s] intention [is] to eliminate student loan debt for you.

The students responded with laughter, tears and even spontaneous dancing. Most couldn’t believe the offer was real.

“I am shocked,” Kimberly Armstrong said upon hearing the news. “I hardly believe it.”

” In admiration ! Stunned! Taken back, ”said Alsidneio Bell, SRA alumnus and software developer.

SRA says the money will allow it to repay loans for around 400 students like Dr. Zachary Tabb, a resident physician in global pediatric health at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

When Dr. Tabb graduated from medical school two years ago, he owed about $ 160,000. Now he’s going to be debt free.

“It’s life changing,” Tabb said. “I’ve been in debt… really my whole adult life. And so it’s just something that wherever you go it follows you… So… it’s been good that way where I can kind of look bigger in terms of what I do next.

A law school graduate Kimberly Armstrong owes nearly $ 300,000 in student loans. She told KPIX 5 that the feeling of freedom is amazing.

“It’s a shock,” said an emotional Armstrong. “It’s amazing. It’s a relief, though. Once you start to settle in, there’s that weight coming off you. Literally, it’s a weight lifted.

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Bell says he thought his $ 55,000 student loan debt would be with him forever.

“Capitalized interest,” Bell recalled. “And I had more than what I started with… And now I’m like, well, what am I doing?”

SRA program manager Lorna Contreras-Townsend said the average SRA university graduates with around $ 8,000 in student loans remain a huge financial worry for many seeking or even losing jobs during the pandemic. COVID-19, so she hopes this gift will bring peace of mind to these students.

“We are able to now offer them some financial freedom to make decisions,” Contreras-Townsend said. “In their careers that really speak to their hearts. “

Former SRA scholar Stevon Cook hopes this donation will inspire others to give.

“People are breaking through the barriers of generational poverty. A lot of these kids are already miracles, ”Cook said. “So we hope this creates a trend with other scholarship organizations.”

Dr Tabb agrees. “It’s really a generational impact,” he said. “Completely unloading myself and everyone… has a real multiplier effect… not only on [my fellow SRA scholars’] lives, but on the contributions they can make to society.

As for donors, they want to remain anonymous, so students like Armstrong are sending that message.

“God bless you,” Armstrong said. “Sure, God bless you. Thank you very much for even thinking of students like us.

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