When Adrianna Garcia spoke in front of a packed crowd in the St. John Francis Regis Chapel on Thursday, she thanked countless teachers, mentors and family members.

Then, with a small crack in her voice, she got to her grandmother.

“Thank you so much,” Garcia said. “It’s because of you I want to start a nonprofit for my community. It’s because of you I want to be there for my community.”

Her grandmother, the beloved Denver figure Lorraine Granado, helped start the nonprofit Cross Community Coalition in the Swansea neighborhood.

Granado is a larger-than-life figure in the neighborhood, a fighter of the people who didn’t always do what was easy, but always tried to do what was right.

Garcia walked across the stage on Thursday, having completed eight years of the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy, finishing the program — that like her grandmother — gave her so much.

“I grew up with her and looked up to her. I grew up following her around,” Garcia said. “I grew up in that neighborhood. And here (at PBLA) I’ve learned a tremendous amount of leadership skills. It’s not always about rushing. It’s sometimes about sitting back and listening to the world.”

The Porter-Billups Leadership Academy (PBLA) celebrated its 23rd year on Thursday at Regis University, graduating 17 students from the program.

The three-week academic program for students entering grades 4 through 12 targets at-risk and low-income Denver youth. The Academy prepares students to become leaders and gain skills for succeeding in college. Students who complete seven years of the Academy and qualify academically are provided scholarships for tuition and fees to attend Regis University.

To date, 29 PBLA graduates have gone on to attend Regis University and more than 80 percent of PBLA graduates have attended college.

This year more than 200 students attended the camp, including children from Kansas, Texas and New Mexico.

Longtime Regis University men’s basketball coach Lonnie Porter founded the Academy in 1996. Five-time NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups joined Porter and the Academy in 2006.

The goal is to help create leaders for the next generation.

“I just want to let the younger kids that are sitting here know that your voice is powerful,” said graduate Alfonso LoBato. “With your voice you can lead your class, you can lead your family and you can lead your community. With your voice you can do remarkable things.”