How a nonprofit transformed the life of a teen karate star and many others

BENSALEM, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "I remember when I was being picked on," said 15-year-old Julian Asencio. "Martial arts taught me to defend myself."

The Bucks County teenager started taking karate lessons when he was 4-years-old. He first earned a black belt at age 10. But as the years went on, his mother found it difficult to afford his classes.

That's when they first met Gene and Michele Rice.

The Rices have four children of their own and watched how extracurricular activities enriched their lives. They started "Plant a Seed Inspire a Dream," a nonprofit foundation to foot the bill for families who can't afford those same experiences for their kids.

"We don't like to be looked at as a check-writing organization," said Michele. "Gene and I personally fund every single child."

They also intend to pair children with mentors in whichever hobby they are passionate about. The perfect role model, Master Ryan Wagner, helped Julian step onto the mat at Achievement Unlocked Martial Arts in Bensalem.

"I don't have any children of my own, so I do look at all my students as my kids," said Master Ryan. "Julian just makes me really proud. You can tell he really cares about the arts and doing his best."

Master Ryan helped Julian learn to keep cool and stay strong when facing bullies and guided him towards earning an advanced second-degree blackbelt.

"Karate is more than just a sport," said Julian. "It's more of, like, self-control and being something more than just a human being."

In fact, Julian has advanced so far that he was recently tapped to be an assistant to Master Ryan. As a result, Julian's tuition fee is waived. The Rices could not be more proud.

"This is what the charity is all about," said Gene Rice. "Because it allows us now to take those funds and help another child."

In the future, Julian hopes to study animation and continue following Master Ryan's karate teachings to the ends of the earth.

"I'm hoping the next person that shows up to this karate school, they can have the same experience as I did as well," he said.

Over 700 scholarships have been awarded since PAS was founded in 2008. To learn more about the Plant a Seed Foundation and how you can help sponsor a child, visit their website.

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