Winston-Salem, NC -- On Fridays, like this one, high school junior Devon Brown likes to wear his military fatigues.
"My dad, my mom and step mom were all in the Navy," he explains.
He says the clothes have a way of reminding him of his goal to serve this country after high school. He wants to join the Army.
"The integrity," Devon said about why he wants to follow in his family's military footsteps. "I want to be a leader."
Two years ago, that goal would have been just a dream.
"I found out, you have to have a high school diploma to join the military," he explained.
At the time, Devon had bad grades, had to repeat his freshman year, and his life? Well, he didn't care.
"I think...I was trying to be a bad guy or be a bad person and just have fun and didn't care about my grades and stuff," he said.
Devon is not alone in his plight.
According to a coalition of three entities, including Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, 1 in 4 students in the 9th grade in the district will not graduate in 4 years.
Recent data shows the district is ot unique either; SAT scores for high school seniors have decreased in the state and experts continue to say the country as a whole needs education reform.
But the program, "Graduate. It Pays," is advocating that community involvement might do a lot to change those facts and perhaps give students like Devon Brown a chance at a brighter future.
For the 17-year-old, it seems to be working.
He has been meeting with his mentor, Don Eppert, for almost two years now.
"He's like a big brother to me," he said.
The program pairs mentors and mentees across the district.
"What I felt he needed was a little more focus on his school work," Don said of Devon. "He needed a little more confidence, and he just needed some encouragement; someone to say, 'oh, Devon, what about that last assignment?'."
Don doesn't have any special training...he simply cares. One hour a week, the two meet and work together.
"If he continues his progress, this year and next year, he will graduate with his class," Don said.
Program leaders say in order to continue the success, they need more volunteers...about 350 of them.
"It's not that you're tutoring, it's not that you're helping them with their classwork. You're being there, you're being an encouragement, you're being a friend, and it's working," said Pamela Suber, an employee with Big Brothers, Big Sisters - another GIP partner.
In its four years of existence, almost all the students the program has found mentors for have gone on to graduate high school.
To find out more about the program and how to volunteer, visit GraduateItPays.org
WFMY News 2