CHICAGO (CBS) — A former California man was in and out of jail and a junkie. He wanted to clean up his act.  He got the help he needed to do that in Chicago and on Friday night, he wore a cap and gown and got a precious diploma.

CBS 2’s Mike Parker reports.

Kevin Little works hard every day, collecting donations at the Salvation Army’s drop-off center. He’s been at it since last winter when he arrived in Chicago from California’s Simi Valley. He’s also been staying in a simple dormitory room at the organization’s residential rehab center on the North Side.

Little spoke as he sat on his mattress.

“I was in a lot of trouble out there,” he recalls, “in and out of jail, addicted to drugs, out on the streets, homeless.”

Kevin credits his sister with intervening and the Salvation Army with giving him a home and helping him get clean and sober.

“We did a one way-ticket to Chicago, advising him, you get through this or there is no plane ticket home,” Diane Slack, his sister, says.

Diane has reunited with her younger brother in Chicago for an important reason. She wanted to see him awarded his G.E.D. He’s got it.  He’s now finished high school.

“I’m very excited,” Kevin says. “I never thought that it would happen.”

Friday night, along with other former addicts and alcoholics and pregnant moms who dropped out of school – they all completed the Wright Community College G.E.D. program — Kevin got his cap and gown and his diploma.

How important is it?

“I was ready to die on the streets until I got out here and everything, my whole outlook on life, has completely changed,” he says.

Kevin says he want to work in the trucking industry and hopes his new diploma will help him achieve that. He also credits his Wright College teacher and mentor Wayne Arnold for helping him turn things around.