Growing up in one of San Antonio's most impoverished neighborhoods, Jennifer Fuentes thought college was out of reach.

Then came a landmark five-year, $8.4 million grant from the Valero Energy Foundation to the San Antonio Independent School District that enabled her to become the first of 10 siblings to attend college. Not only that, but graduates of her former district now are enrolling in college at an increasing rate that is projected to exceed the state average for economically disadvantaged students.

Valero's grant is going to the SAISD Foundation to fund the district's “Pipeline for College Success" program.

The program gave Fuentes, a student at Texas Tech University, exposure to college through a Spring Break trip while still in high school, help in applying for and getting accepted into college and even continuing support from district personnel.

“I am beyond grateful to Valero for investing so much support in making sure students like myself know the educational options that are out there," Fuentes said.

The program provides two full-time “college-bound advisors" at seven district high schools to work with the students. Fuentes attended the Spring Break College Tour of colleges and universities in the Midwest, which, she said, “made college comfortable – not as scary. It made college real for me."

In all, 470 SAISD students participated in college tours during the 2017-2018 school year.

Fuentes worked tirelessly with advisors to submit her financial aid and college applications, navigate and secure scholarship opportunities and apply for student loans. In addition, the advisors guided her to attend a program at Texas Tech for first-generation college students, helping her build a network of fellow students.

But support hasn't ended there. She still receives calls and visits from advisors – and even care packages from Valero employees. “Knowing that there is continuous support from Valero for other students like me means so much," she said.