When the odds are against you, a helping hand guiding you to success can make all the difference.

That’s the mission of a decades-old North Portland non-profit that identifies young at-risk African-American students and supports them through graduation. And it works – Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI) helps more that 95 percent of it’s program participants earn a diploma.

But the Portland-based non-profit didn’t launch with the intention of being such a powerful influencer in kid’s academic success. Rather, SEI started out as a one-week summer basketball camp. The program was the brainchild of Tony Hopson, Self Enhancement’s 56-year-old founder and president.

Hopson was a Portland coach, teacher and counselor in the 1980s when he began identifying groups of black students who could use a positive adult presence in their lives. From there it developed into the multi-service, nationwide non-profit organization that it is today.

Now for 31 years the organization’s mission has been to support at-risk urban youth, providing them with in-school services and after-school programs that are designed to motivate, encourage and guide students (aged eight-25) to live up to their full potential. They also support students living in poverty and those who have been exposed to parental abuse and neglect.

The SEI Academy makes youths their priority. The goal is to treat them as individuals and the future of our city, rather than a statistic.

The program’s students come from SEI’s own Academy  a middle school) and public schools including Boise Eliot, Vernon, Woodlawn and Ockley Green K-8 schools, as well as H. B. Lee Middle School, Jefferson, Grant and Reynolds High Schools.

This week at Portland radio Project we featured SEI as part of our award-winning Community Voices series. You can listen to interviews with key members of the organization below.