Nightly News   |  August 16, 2013

From homeless to Howard University

California teenager James Ward was homeless for years, but found help from complete strangers and is now getting a college education. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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>>> beating the odds. a young man from california learning some tough lessons about life heading to a college education . a remarkable turn of events in the last week, nbc's miguel almaguer has our report.

>> reporter: like so many kids this time of the year, today 19-year-old james ward is saying his good-byes and heading off to college, howard university .

>> wow.

>> reporter: but, unlike most kids, he won't miss the place he used to call home.

>> where i slept was right around here.

>> reporter: james was homeless for four years. he shared this cramped room in a shelter with his mother, younger brother and sister.

>> i would just stare at the stars in the sky.

>> reporter: his window to the world overlooked the streets of l.a.'s skid row .

>> this is the place that i'll never forget. i would try to hide it from people, but now as i've gotten older i've realized that it was nothing to be embarrassed about to be begin with.

>> reporter: james did well in high school , his ticket out of here. howard university offered to cover 70% of his expenses but he was still short $14,000.

>> he's not looking for a handout. i he's just looking for a chance.

>> reporter: jessica southerly, a volunteer at the shelter who also had been homeless launched the james fund, a web site that asks strangers for donations. after a tweet and plugs from celebrities, in just seven days jessica's web site homeless to howard hit the target, though just for this year.

>> i didn't know what to feel. i was -- i didn't believe it. it felt too surreal. it was like a dream.

>> reporter: he's left skid row behind with this message.

>> no matter who you are or where you are in life or what social class you're in, there's always somewhere out there to help you or someone out there who you can help.

>> reporter: today james boarded a plane to get his college education , but he's already learned some of life's most important lessons through the kindness of strangers. miguel almaguer, nbc news, los angeles .