DENVER --Louis Vasquez knows what got him to where he is today.
A strong family background -- and the year-long requirements of playing football in Texas -- made sure he stayed on the right path.
On Wednesday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, he stood in front of 230 at-risk students to make sure their paths lead to success as well.
"I just did what I was told and did things right. That's what's gotten me here," Vasquez said. "Here, this is who I am. This is how I got to be where I am. This is how I grew up. There's a path, my path that I went down. Yours might be a little bit different, but if you want to be successful, they all lead to the same place."
Vasquez served as the keynote speaker for the YESS Institute's 2014 mentoring celebration at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, which highlighted the contributions and accomplishments of 230 students as they work toward high school graduation.
"We are very grateful for Mr. Vasquez' commitment to YESS and youth engagement," said Carlo Kriekels, co-founder and executive director of the YESS Institute. "He is a strong positive role model for our students as well as a leader within the Latino community."
The YESS Institute aims to provide secondary school students at the highest risk level with the skills to shift the negative cycle of poverty, dropout and violence into a positive cycle of leadership development, civic engagement and economic contribution. It does so primarily through peer mentoring.
This year marks the 10th year the program has provided peer mentoring programs in Denver, achieving an 85 percent graduation rate for its students.
Vasquez said the cause struck a chord with him, and he jumped at the opportunity to contribute.
"For me, especially the Hispanic youth, a lot of them, they think they don't have the resources or the same opportunities that others do," he said. "They do, they just may have to work a little harder. But then again, that's what the Hispanic race is known for -- we're hard-working people. So that's one thing I want to do, to reach out and just tell my life story, where I started, how I started, where it all began and how I came to be the person I am today."
The YESS Institute aims to build racial and ethnic equity, and its peer mentors have earned prestigious scholarships like the Daniels, Boetcher and Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholarships.
Using the "Road to Success" curriculum, YESS – serving Lincoln, West and North High Schools – creates an alternative to disciplinary referrals. For many youth, it's often offered as a "last resort" program to students at risk for dropping out or being expelled.
"This day and age, it seems like just even with the media like MTV and all that, just the shows they have, it's like encouraging kids, 'Hey, I don't have to go to school and I can still become famous.' That's not the way it rolls," Vasquez said.
"That's what I wanted to do tonight, just explain that hey, everybody's path is a little different, you've got to overcome different obstacles. But if you want to be successful, all paths lead that way. Then if you don't, there are different paths down that way, too."