When Laurel High School alumni Lacreesha Tyner graduated from college in May, she finished what her mother had started a quarter century ago.
"I pushed her and I pushed her and I pushed her," said Tyner's mother, Cynthia Tyner. "She always wanted to give up. I said, 'Oh, no you're not.' I said, 'You can do it and you know you can do it, so I don't want to hear it.'"
Lacreesha Tyner, 23, was honored last month at a celebration held by First Generation College Bound, a Laurel-based college access organization that helped her secure funding to attend Bowie State University.
In 1988, when Cynthia Tyner graduated from Laurel High School, she wanted to get a college degree. She dreamed of working in the medical field so that she could help people.
She didn't know how to apply to college, and her guidance counselors didn't help her.
Instead, Tyner worked in retail for about two years. That was until 1990, when teacher and Laurel resident Joe Fisher started First Generation College Bound to help low-income and first generation students pursue higher education. The organization has since helped more than 500 men and women obtain college degrees.
Fisher started by knocking on doors and talking to residents at Kimberly Gardens, the government-subsidized apartment complex where Tyner lived at the time.
"I know a couple of other people [were] like, 'I don't know about this,'" Tyner, 45, said. "I was like, 'I don't know about y'all, but I'm interested.' I listened to everything he had to say."
She was one of the first students in Fisher's program. He and other volunteers helped her navigate college application forms, financial aid applications and the SATs.
"Financial aid, I didn't know about anything like that until Mr. Fisher came in," Tyner said. "And English, I hated English, so he had someone working personally with me, one-on-one, with that for the SATs."
In the fall of 1991, Tyner enrolled at Prince George's Community College.
Two months later, she became pregnant with her daughter, Lacreesha. Still, she was determined to finish the school year.
"I said, 'I'm going to do this, pregnant and all,'" she said. "I scheduled my appointments with her around my college classes. I told them I am not missing school."
After Lacreesha Tyner turned 2, and following a tough year of balancing work, school and motherhood, Cynthia Tyner decided to leave school.
"After that year I said, 'You know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to quit school. I'm just going to go back a later date,'" she said. "I said, 'I'm going to stop to raise my child,' and I raised her."
Tyner did everything in her power to support her daughter's academic success. Even when working two jobs she would come home at night and help her with homework.
"I want my baby to make something of herself, because I know she can do it," Tyner said. "Because she's very intelligent, very smart, and she can do so much more."
Through the years, Tyner stayed in touch with Fisher, who got her daughter involved in First Generation College Bound when she started her freshman year at Laurel High School.
"Obviously, my parents couldn't afford it," said Lacreesha Tyner, who was an honor roll student throughout kindergarten to 12th grade. "Mr. Fisher and everyone from First Generation College Bound showed me different ways to get scholarships. If it wasn't for them, I don't know what I would have done."
During the college application process, Tyner was diagnosed with diabetes. Fisher and his team helped her find a school nearby so that she could stay close to her mom.
"We wanted to make sure that the college was affordable so that she could stay there and finish," Fisher said, "and that it was an accredited college where she could graduate with a degree."
Tyner was accepted into Bowie State University, but the challenges didn't end there.
"It was a big adjustment," she said. "High school is supposed to prepare you for college, but it didn't, and all the stress started coming."
Care packages from First Generation College Bound helped, she said.
"We send all kinds of stuff: candy, gift cards, things to read," Fisher said. "To let them know we care."
After switching majors from computer programming to criminal justice, Tyner's grade-point average improved, and she made it onto the dean's list more than once. In May, Fisher and Tyner's mother attended her commencement.
"I cried like a monster," Cynthia Tyner said. "It was so amazing to watch her go across that stage. I am so proud of her. She doesn't even know."
Since Lacreesha Tyner graduated from college, she's been bugging her mom about resuming her own college journey. Cynthia Tyner is on a break from taking online classes for a degree in medical office management and expects to graduate in 2017 or 2018.
She's determined to finish this time.
"I'm going to do it," Tyner said. "Because I know I can do so much more."