CHICAGO — Doris Medina believes she's holding 35 lives in her hands.
She works with nearly three dozen Kelly High School seniors as a coach with College Possible Chicago, a nonprofit that pairs recent college graduates with low-income high school students hoping to graduate from a four-year university.
Medina, 24, was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Mexico and knew little English when she moved to Chicago as a young teenager. She graduated from Curie High School and University of Illinois at Chicago — and sees herself in the 35 Kelly students who are hoping to follow in her footsteps.
"I definitely believe I'm saving these kids' lives," said Medina, of Brighton Park. "It's a lot of pressure, but I feel that they're on the right track."
Medina mentors Kelly seniors like Josani Lopez, who wants to be a pediatrician, and Graciela Popoca, who intends to major in criminal justice and become an FBI agent. Popoca has been accepted at four universities, Lopez at Columbia College Chicago. Both said they would be lost without Medina's guidance.
"I've learned from Doris that if you really want to succeed in life, you have to work really hard to achieve that goal," Lopez said.
Popoca added: "Overall, she is an awesome coach who inspires all of us to do better. She believes that all of us will achieve great accomplishments in life.”
Medina was the first person in her family to graduate from college. Her mother works at a hotel, her father at a factory. When she was a senior at Curie, she had no clue about how to apply to college until she read a poster for the "Gear Up" nonprofit organization, which helped her find a scholarship to Harold Washington College before she transferred to UIC.
After graduating last year, she joined College Possible Chicago to help the next generation. Her one-year position is strictly volunteer, although she receives a $13,000 living stipend and $5,000 educational award, according to College Possible Chicago Executive Director Christine Poorman.
"Doris is the type of person we're looking for in terms of someone from the community who has achieved greatness and has a passion for giving back and changing their community," Poorman said.
Downtown-based College Possible Chicago, which was founded in Minnesota and has been here for 1½ school years, has college graduates like Medina in city high schools including Amundsen, Lake View, Bowen and Marine Leadership Academy. Poorman said the program is working with 350 students this school year and will expand to two more Chicago schools in 2017-18.
If schools are interested College Possible Chicago's services, Poorman said they can contact her at CPoorman@collegepossible.org.
Medina spends four days a week at Kelly High School, another at College Possible Chicago's office and then countless hours helping students with applications, finding financial aid and seeking the right college fit.
Medina, who also plans to get a master's degree in adolescent mental health, said the endless work is worth it.
"This is what I was born to do — to help young students pursue their dreams and show them that anything is possible," Medina said.