THE BRONX - Members of the 2009 graduating class of Grace Outreach in the South Bronx ascended the stage in white caps and gowns Thursday to celebrate their accomplishments, which for many of them have been long in the making.

The program helps young women who dropped out of school attain their Graduation Equivalency Diplomas, and even prepares them for college free of charge. Over the past five years, the Grace Outreach has conferred over 4,000 GEDs.

Officials at the program say they fulfill a critical need for low-income women to find a path toward financial independence.