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Beyond graduation: A PEAK mentoring relationship is helping one scholar build a well-rounded life

All of our PEAK scholars work hard. But for PEAK Class of 2020 member Miguel Flores, hard work was just the first step in his path to success at school - and beyond.

Miguel personifies the immense potential present in Chicago youth - even those who have struggled academically - and the impact of PEAK’s mentoring program to help unleash that potential.

Bright and curious but easily overwhelmed, Miguel had to work overtime to complete his schoolwork. Very shy when he began at Holy Trinity High School, Miguel had joined the school’s baseball team and gradually grew braver and more outgoing as he matured into an upperclassman. But he continued to struggle with classwork, often feeling swamped. His grades suffered as a result, and his motivation to keep working would take a hit.

Then David Spencer, Miguel’s mentor, noticed that Miguel liked art and showed talent. Seeing Miguel’s enthusiasm, David saw an opportunity for inspiration.

“He saw that I was good at art, so he would always motivate me to keep drawing, and he would ask me about my art,” Miguel said. David encouraged Miguel to keep stretching his skill, and introduced Miguel to his wife, a graphic designer who used her artistic skill daily in her career. The experience proved powerfully motivational.

“My mentor’s wife designed the magazine for the (Chicago) Bears,” Miguel said. “I want to do something like that.”

Despite his enthusiasm, the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in Spring 2020 further hobbled Miguel’s ability to focus on classwork. The lack of in-class attention and socialization the shutdown caused made it even harder for him to complete his work.

This is where PEAK mentoring rubber meets the road. Overcoming obstacles together, developing life skills, is what PEAK is all about. David persuaded Miguel to devote daily time to his assignments. David’s daily calls and texts of support proved so motivating that Miguel even spent up to six hours a day during the summer to complete his work.

“Miguel just really needed that personal encouragement to keep going, and with David in his corner he really blossomed,” said PEAK Executive Director Katherine Rush. “He worked tremendously hard and often spoke of David as his big brother, always there for him.”

The mentor/scholar relationship has also blossomed, remaining strong despite David’s moving to Texas to take a new job and Miguel’s matriculation at college. Now well into his sophomore year at Triton College in Melrose Park, Miguel is carrying a full course load with a focus on graphic design, as well as coaching junior-high boys for a Big Academy Baseball travel team he accompanied to Kentucky this year.

He still plays baseball on weekends, works on his art almost every day and - just as important to his happiness - he and David still talk and text. Miguel deeply appreciates David’s encouragement. The pair hope to visit with each other in Texas next summer.

Miguel’s learned to enjoy his academics in college - his favorite class this year was math - and has found ways to stay focused on coursework by spending time studying at the library and with friends. He noted that the many perseverance and organization skills he developed to succeed at school and in baseball now are those he learned and internalized from David, his PEAK advisers and Holy Trinity teachers.

“My parents always told me to ‘(work at something) you’ll be happy to do every day,’ and graphic design will be something that I will always be excited about,” Miguel said. “I never thought I would be where I am now. I never thought I would be able to continue with baseball and give back by coaching, giving kids the same travel ball experience that I had growing up.

“David and PEAK showed me how to do that.”


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