December 07, 2009 12:00 PM

Catalino Tapia, 64

Redwood City, Calif.

Catalino Tapia arrived in this country with $6 in his pocket and a dream—that a Mexican immigrant with a sixth-grade education could make something of himself. Today he has a thriving gardening business, a three-bedroom home and boundless pride in his family, including son Noel, 37, a real estate lawyer. “Who would have thought I’d witness my son receiving a law degree?” he says. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something for others.'”

With donations from clients and community groups, he started the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation (bagf.org), which has granted $1,500 scholarships to 51 low-income students since 2006. “He gives kids opportunity,” says Manuel Santamaria of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Without Catalino’s support, Jeremy Morales Madrigal, 21, would have abandoned his dream of becoming a chemical engineer; instead, the son of a housekeeper is halfway to his bachelor’s degree. “He treats us like his kids,” Jeremy says. “He tells us to make Hispanics proud.”

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