TORONTO -- It's the personal connection that you get from stories like that of Nike Valeus that makes the relationship between Pathways to Education Canada and Jays Care Foundation so special.
"That's everything to us," said executive director of Jays Care Foundation Rob Drynan. "It's one thing to have statistics. ... but it's another thing to actually have those real stories that you can talk to kids and they say to you, 'If that didn't happen, I'd be in a very different place.'
"It almost sounds cliche and abstract … but when a kid is saying that to you … it's really, really powerful."
Valeus and his family emigrated from Haiti to the United States when he was young. They were eventually deported and came to Canada when he was nine. Nike and his family went through some hard times, living in homeless shelters, adjusting to the language barrier and just barely getting by. However, after finding himself with Pathways in ninth grade, things began to turn around.
Nike, now 18, will graduate from high school in the next couple of weeks and plans to attend Ryerson University in the fall to study media.
His story, like many that can be found at Pathways to Education Canada, is the reason the Jays Care Foundation handed over a $1 million cheque to the organization prior to the Blue Jays game vs. the Rockies at Rogers Centre on Monday.
That cheque is a part of a five-year deal between the organizations, extending from a partnership that began in 2008. Jays Care and Pathways are involved in a program known as Home Run Scholars, which helps students across Canada to find stability in various ways, including working with a mentor in the community.
"One of the things Pathways does is develop a multifaceted program that really is a support system," said Mide Akerewusi of Pathways. "We provide social support, we provide financial support, and then we provide mentoring and tutoring sessions … for our students, so that they have a firsthand positive adult role model to look up to, but also to receive the practical support and help that every kid needs in high school."
Since its inception, high school graduation rates in the Greater Toronto Area have doubled and dropout rates have declined by 70 percent.
"The amount of success they have is unbelievable," Drynan said.
Originally, Pathways served the community at Regent Park in Toronto, but has since spread to Montreal and Vancouver, along with 13 others across Canada.
Jays Care plans to support Pathways by helping students pay for their post-secondary education and the costs associated with it.
"These kids have a very high rate of success," Drynan said. "They just need someone to pay for it going forward."
In addition to the money, 80 students, graduates, and mentors from nearby communities watched Monday's game between the Blue Jays and the Rockies from the Acura Executive Lounge at Rogers Centre.
Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. Evan Peaslee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.