NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A broke, homeless, down on his luck immigrant from the Bahamas has achieved the American dream — going from the streets of the Bronx to the Ivy League.

At 36 years old, Wellington Mackey will be on the older undergrads at Yale University this fall, and after receiving the prestigious Cooke Scholarship for Transfer Students, he won’t have to pay for it.

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“I don’t know how to even put it into words,” he told CBS2’s Matt Kozar.

Mackey grew up poor in the Bahamas. He came to the U.S. by himself 13 years ago, and rented an apartment in the Bronx.

But his American dream quickly hit a brick wall; $100 a week working odd jobs wasn’t paying the rent. He was evicted and had nowhere to go.

Mackey slept on benches, in basements, and occasionally on friends’ couches.

“When you’re in that mode, you’re just trying to survive and go from day to day,” he said.

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He relied on the generosity of church friends to help him back on his feet. He got a job with a cable satellite company, founded a charity called Helping Hands that works with soup kitchens, attended Westchester Community College on a full scholarship, and is now on to the Ivy League.

“It’s not just that he’s overcome challenges, but he’s tried to create opportunities for other individuals,” said Sandra Ramsay, Westchester Community College director of scholarships.

Ramsay is Mackey’s scholarship adviser.

“Never give up. Anything is possible. You don’t know the opportunities available to you until you reach out and try,” she said.

“I didn’t come to school so I can get some career or make a lot of money. It was this goal in mind to change the realities of the most vulnerable people in society,” Mackey said.

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Many were proud that Mackey defied the odds through hard work and persistence.