Former at risk teen credits teacher for turning his life around
7 years ago, Rafael Lemus thought about giving up.
The then 16-year-old felt lost, alone and was at-risk of not graduating high school.
That is until Brian Willis stepped into his life.
Rafael says the educator single-handedly helped to shape the man he is today.
He talked him out of dropping out of the Lamar Academy in McAllen, to seek discipline and to push forward with positivity.
In 2008, Rafael graduated from high school.
The two have kept in contact ever since.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have graduated," he explained. "I wouldn't have the life I have right now. I wouldn't be the person I am today."
Brian is now an assistant principal at Barrientes Middle School in the Edinburg CISD.
It's there where the Pay it 4Ward surprise unfolds in front of his colleagues.
"Sir, I know you don't know what's going on but I contacted Action 4 News," Rafael said to Brian in the office area of the school. "I want to finally tell you thank you for everything you've done for me. Thank you for helping me out with the credits at Lamar Academy. Thank you for always supporting me in everything that I do. Thank you for opening your home to me... offering me your friendship because I know it's not that often that a teacher offers friendship to a student let alone keep that friendship for 8 years. On behalf of FNB Insurance and Action 4 News, I want to Pay it 4Ward with $400."
Brian appears shocked.
"I've seen you grow into becoming a responsible young man and I'm very proud of you," he said. "Words can't express my gratitude... Thank you."
The Marine Corps veteran and father of three shares how he too once needed a second chance growing up.
"I saw some of the struggles he faced and it reminded me of some of the struggles that I had growing up," Brian said. "It's just a part of what I do and it makes me happy to see success like this and I don't expect a payment for anything that I do."
That's why Karen Gonzalez, a spokesperson with FNB Insurance Agency, calls Brian the perfect Pay it 4Ward recipient.
"Most teachers disappear after graduation and you continued to be a positive influence and a really special part of Rafael's life," she said. "On behalf of FNB Insurance and Action 4 News we're very happy to help Pay it 4Ward."