Growing up in Los Angeles, Dr. Sandra Cano saw gangs and drugs in her neighborhood.

She had many friends go down dangerous paths in life. But Cano's mother, a housekeeper who worked for some of Los Angeles' wealthiest, was determined to give her daughter the best possible education.

In this episode of "LA Stories," Cano explains to host Giselle Fernandez how she was the first in her family to go to college, despite her surroundings, and eventually earned her bachelor's, master's and doctorate.

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"I always had my mom and my family in the back of my mind, just thinking about how my success was their success," Cano said.

Cano went on to become a teacher and rose through the ranks to become a principal. She put special focus on English learners, knowing from experience the difficulties they face. Today, she is the executive director of the nonprofit City Year Los Angeles, which partners with educators to provide mentors and tutors for children in school.

Cano feels she is uniquely equipped to empower the children she serves through City Year because she was once one of them.

"It's important for me as the executive director to serve as the voice for the people that are not in the room," she said. "I have to represent their voices."

Through City Year LA, students are paired with Corps members who, as part of the Americorp National Service, take a year off of school or work to commit themselves to give back to underserved communities. The Corps members are paired with children and work one-on-one with them to help them with their academics and provide social-emotional support.

Cano has seen firsthand what a difference this makes in the children's lives by creating educational equity.

"Everyone should be seen," she said. "We all have that potential, as long as we are given those opportunities."

Watch "LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez" at 9 p.m. every Monday on Spectrum News 1.