Blind Triplet Contemplated Suicide Before Blind Man Adopted Them. Now Boys Are Pursuing Their Dreams (Exclusive)

“Knowing the path that they were heading on and the path they’re on now, I just feel so grateful that we’re a family," Ollie Cantos tells PEOPLE

<p>courtesy Ollie Canos</p> From Left to Right  Steven, Leo, Ollie and Nick Cantos

courtesy Ollie Canos

From Left to Right Steven, Leo, Ollie and Nick Cantos

This post is a collaboration between PEOPLE and StoryCorps, the largest collection of human voices ever archived.

When Ollie Cantos looks back on the 14 years since he first met triplets Nick, Leo and Steven, he has tears in his eyes and endless gratitude in his heart.

“I can’t believe how far we have all come,” Ollie, now 53, tells PEOPLE. “Knowing the path that they were heading on and the path they’re on now, I just feel so grateful that we’re a family."

"Having them as sons and seeing how they prosper and how they are making their own way in the world is really so heartwarming. It means I was able to help prepare them for adulthood and leadership," he adds.

That original path looked dire when he first met the boys through a friend at church in 2010. "He had this feeling like I had to meet them," Ollie previously told PEOPLE in 2016. "He also told me that they had never met someone else who was blind.”

The triplets were born with the same condition Ollie has: retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that occurs in premature babies and causes blindness. After meeting, they were mentored by Ollie, who recalled to StoryCorps in 2014 that the children’s lives looked bleak and filled with no hope for the future.

Listen to the Cantos family share her journey with StoryCorps in the player below.

Leo explained at the time that he and his brothers' routine consisted of waking up, going to school, returning home and “staying there for the rest of the day." He added that he remembered wishing he could go outside and play in the snow like everyone else.

Added Nick: “It was getting so bad that I wanted to die. But it was one of the decisions I’m glad I did not make, because I would have missed out on everything.”

Soon after Ollie met the boys, who are now 24, he knew that they were meant to be his sons, and began the process to officially adopt them.

Looking back on his life, Steven told PEOPLE in 2016, “If dad weren’t here, two things would happen: either I’d be in a gang or I’d be dead.”

Related: Brothers in Foster Care Are Adopted Together by Single Dad: ‘We Get to Have a Family’ (Exclusive)

Ollie, the first blind person and first person with a visible disability to become a councilman in the city of West Covina, California, has been the perfect role model for his sons. The attorney, who previously worked with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., made it his mission in life to raise his boys to be independent and happy.

After PEOPLE originally spent time with Ollie and his sons at their home in 2016, the then-16-year-old triplets went on to become Eagle Scouts, completing the same rigorous requirements as anyone else.

“They did it with no time extensions or accommodations,” says Ollie, who moved from Virginia to California in 2019. “I’m super proud.”

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For their service projects, Steven collected supplies for low-income students, collecting enough for 130 kids, according to local outlet ARLNow. Meanwhile, Leo organized a blood drive and “literally saved hundreds of lives,” says Ollie, while Nick gathered hygiene supplies for a nonprofit that helps abused women and families.

“They deserve to rise to the very best, because that's how we make the world better and that's how we make our individual lives better in the process too,” Ollie says of his sons.

Soon after these extraordinary accomplishments, the triplets spent time at The Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts, to work on numerous skills including cooking, cleaning, household chores, time management, technology skills enhancement, independent cane travel and exploration.

In 2018, it was time for the boys to leave the comfort of their home and head to college. Today, Leo is set to graduate from the University of Virginia, while Nick and Steven will graduate from Southern Virginia University. Although the distance is hard for Ollie, he is proud of the boys for pursuing their dreams.

Related: Foster Mom Who Adopted 3 Kids After Realizing They Were Siblings Says Journey 'Changed My Life'

“They didn’t want to leave because they felt the same way I did,” recalls Ollie. “They felt like, ‘My gosh, we’ve just been this intense family unit for this long,' and at the same time, they knew they needed to learn and to strike out on their own a bit."

He adds: “I barely had enough time with them. They first came into my life when they were 10, so I spent the first two years cramming in every childhood possibility they missed out on: Easter egg hunts, trick-or-treating, shooting squirt guns at each other... all that stuff. I crammed it in because I knew we were running out of time before they started growing up.”

<p>courtesy Ollie Canos</p> From Left to Right: Leo, Ollie, Nick and Steven Cantos

courtesy Ollie Canos

From Left to Right: Leo, Ollie, Nick and Steven Cantos

Related: Family Who Adopted Surrendered Baby on How They're Honoring His Birth Mom: 'He Always Has a Piece of Her'

Today, Nick feels "proud to be a member of our family," he tells PEOPLE, as Steven says the moment he officially became a Cantos felt like it was "completing my identity."

For Leo, "life has been good to me personally and professionally, and it will continue to be that way because I have a loving family at my side," he says. "I certainly am not the same person I was 10, even 15 years ago, way before dad came into the picture."

As Ollie looks ahead, he can’t wait to see his boys have a family of their own one day.

“I’m going to be granddad, not grandpa, for their future kids,” says Ollie, laughing, “and want them to be raised in the same spirit of love.”

Ollie also created a GoFundMe, and he says the money raised will continue to help the triplets as they mature. "It will help them eliminate outstanding college debt, assist with technology upgrades as they begin their careers, and assist with travel when being invited by organizations to give speeches to non-profits." he adds.

<p>courtesy Ollie Canos</p> (L-R) Nick, Leo and Steven Cantos

courtesy Ollie Canos

(L-R) Nick, Leo and Steven Cantos

Ollie knows that despite their successes, setbacks are bound to happen — and should be embraced as a family unit.

“Even when there are any setbacks I say, ‘I’m here with you. We've got this together. We have always been together. We’ve got this,’ " he says.

He adds: “I’m just so grateful to have them in my life as my sons, because my life wouldn't be as rich had it not been for having them. Nothing will break us apart.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or go to

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