There were plenty of winners at the 19th-annual "Beat the Odds" celebration of the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota.

The event honored four local teens who have struggled to succeed. But the defense fund does more than that, said Jim Koppel, regional director. "We honor those who have beat the odds, but the CDF is trying to change the odds," he said.

Koppel said the organization has pushed for legislation that would give more children access to affordable health care and that it's currently working to increase state funding for child-care subsidies to low-income parents.

One of the honorees was 18-year-old Abdirahman Hassan, who aspires to be president of Somalia. Hassan, who was born in Somalia, moved to the United States in 2004. After being in a remedial class for English language learners in eighth grade, he had a revelation. "I got serious and worked really hard," he said. He also joined the debate and robotics clubs. In the fall, he plans to study pre-med, chemical engineering and political science at the University of Minnesota.

As for his international political ambitions, he has big ideas for Somalia. "It's time for change," Hassan said.

He already has enlisted at least one experienced politico. "I'm going to be his campaign manager," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

SARA GLASSMAN • 612-673-7177