As we head toward the end of the year, many teenagers are preparing for the next big step - the end of high school.

This is when the Reno/Sparks Rotary Clubs step in to help those who want to go to college. We took a look at the Achievement Beyond Obstacles (ABO) program that recently kicked off with a weekend retreat.

We get there as the students are gathered around and encouraging one another to break a wooden board by hand. Every boy and girl in the room does it and every time, the crowd cheers like it’s the first time.

These kids are breaking barriers...and not just physical ones. On the boards, the teens have written their biggest obstacles, their biggest fears

"...Not being enough," says one. 

Not smart enough, pretty or handsome enough. 

The list is long.

And in a moment of bravery they couldn't have conceived of when they started this weekend retreat - they not only spoke them out loud, they've learned to replace their fears with goals.

"I will travel the world, become a musician, write songs...and change the world!" shouts 17-year-old Jack, with a smile as wide as the room. He leads the group in a “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant.

These seniors were hand-picked from high schools in Washoe County to participate in Rotary's Achievement Beyond Obstacles - a mentoring and scholarship program for teens who have been dealt a pretty rotten hand.

"I'm not quite over the things I've been through in my past,” says 17-year-old Emma. “But I also realize I can overcome these things and I won't always be this way."

The goal is to help the students find his and her strengths so they can succeed in college and life - in spite of the obstacles they've been handed. 

Rochelle Whellams, along with her husband, leads the retreat. The two travel the U.S. as motivational speakers. "One of my main things that I work with students on is shifting from have to....have to go to school, have to go to work, have to...I get to," Rochelle says smiling.

And the strategy works...

"I never knew I was capable of a lot of the things we've been doing and that was really strange," 17-year-old Sharon tells us.

On a scale of one to ten, Jack says he gives the program an 11.  "...we’ve already been through so much that if we can get through that stuff, we be able to do just fine".

The motto for this Rotary program is "What, So What and Now What?" aimed perfectly at high school seniors.

Rotarian Dan Carne is on the ABO Committee;."Kinda shepherding these kids through the next couple years of their lives, so the motor gets started and they take off."

By spring of next year, rotary will award more than $20,000 in scholarships to these kids.

The students have several more programs to complete before graduation.

If you would like to support Achievement Beyond Obstacles or learn more about it, please click below: