By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Raymond Williams never really expected to escape the dream-crushing poverty of West Dallas until he became a part of ScholarShot. Now, the Dallas-based non-profit is helping him defy the odds, and his own low expectations.

“It was this year that it became surreal,” says Williams, nearing the end of his junior year at Texas A&M Commerce. “I’ve actually got this semester and a year after that and I’m done!

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ScholarShot founder and Executive Director Dan Hooper says in Texas, “Nine out of 10 at risk students that get into college, drop out.” The goal of the nonprofit that he left the private sector to lead, is to erase that trend. He says 97 percent of ScholarShot students are on track to graduate from their chosen programs– and without crushing student loan debt.

“We do feel that ScholarShot is the capstone… the final yard to make sure our kids get to a career and make good on all of those other services that are upstream,” says Hooper.

ScholarShot provides financial resources; but, most importantly, he says, students receive one-on-one support with navigating the college maze with an ‘academic manager’.

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“I get to talk about things that are exciting, I get to talk about things that are hard,” says Williams, who agrees that it’s the support that’s made the difference in his college journey.

Now, a $75,000 prize for winning the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ One Up The Pitch competition, will help ScholarShot launch more students toward success.

“These are people that are changing the world where we live with new solutions, new ideas to solving complex, challenging problems that have been around in our communities for decades,” says United Way President & CEO Jennifer Sampson, while congratulating all of the nonprofits that entered the fast paced pitch competition. “They are doing amazing work. They’re turning dropouts into degrees and making sure kids stay in school and are ready for success.”

And finally, for Williams, success seems within reach.

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“Oh, yeah, wow… yeah… I’m gonna be a college graduate!”