First grade teacher Jaree Bargaineer is so passionate about education—her students’ and her own—it’s hard to believe that her academic career almost ended after Wekiva High School. She credits her Boys & Girls Club with prodding her toward college. Jaree laughs, “I was headed for the Junior Olympics in weightlifting, but Mr. Austin and Ms. Suzanne convinced me that it might be good to have something to fall back on. There aren’t too many women out there making a living as weightlifters!” Ms. Suzanne helped her complete college apps and research and secure financial aid, and the next thing she knew, Jaree was off to Spelman College in Atlanta, the first in her family to go past high school.

The Historically Black women’s college “was the perfect fit for me. I had never been around so many goal-driven people, other women I could have intellectual conversations with—a community that supports me to this day.” When she graduated, Ms. Suzanne and Mr. Austin made the 8-hour drive to cheer her on.

For the past two years, Jaree’s been teaching at an inner-city Atlanta charter school, while studying for her master’s in education, which she just received in May. “I love it,” she says of her job shepherding the young children she refers to as “my scholars.” “I love seeing their light bulbs go off when they first understand a concept”.

And next week, she’ll close on her first house, a 2 bedroom townhouse in the suburbs, complete with a backyard for Bailey, her Yorkshire terrier.

“I owe a lot to my Boys & Girls Club,” she says. “They taught me life skills, goal-setting and discipline.”