"From homeless to Howard" might sound like the title of a movie, but for 19-year-old James Ward, this is his reality -- though it still feels like a dream.
"It's surreal. I can't believe after everything that's happened I'm going to be leaving to attend Howard," Ward said in an interview with The Huffington Post, reflecting on the generosity of strangers who put him on the path to Washington, D.C.
Ward, a resident of Los Angeles, will be able to matriculate at the historically black college this fall thanks to an online campaign he launched just last week called "Homeless To Howard."
His site is collecting donations through Paypal and has picked up steam across social media. Teach For America sent out a tweet highlighting Ward's story, and rapper Common shared the link to the site, supporting Ward's dream to attend college.
To date, the efforts have raised $12,000, enough to handle his first-year expenses not covered by loans or grants. The bigger goal is to raise the funds for all four years of college. But for the moment, just having enough to cover the first year, Ward said, is beyond what he expected.
"I would've never thought that something we started just a couple of days ago would've turned out to become this massive," Ward said. "However, it makes me feel very happy because I know that although the world may seem like a harsh and cold place, there are some people out there that care and want to give to those in need."
Since the age of 14, Ward, along with his mom and two younger siblings, has been homeless in California. When times were really hard, they lived in his mom's car, but otherwise they've moved between different shelters and relatives' homes until they secured a spot at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles' Skid Row neighborhood in February 2012.
"In the past years, life has been very hectic," he said. "We had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all, I've always managed to keep my grades up and help my younger brother and sister do the same and keep them on the right track as well as myself."
Despite not having a stable home and attending three different high schools in four years, James graduated from San Pedro High School in June. Determined to attend college, he figured out a plan and made it happen -- with a crucial helping hand from Jessica Sutherland.