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.
Injured top Blue Jays prospects on the mend
Injuries forced right-handers Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna and left-hander Daniel Norris, the Blue Jays' top three prospects, onto the disabled list in the Minor Leagues in the past six weeks. Slowly, but surely, all three are beginning to return to action.
Osuna was the first to get back on the mound, throwing five shutout innings for Class A Lansing on June 9. While the Blue Jays don't want to publicly commit to a timeline for Sanchez's and Norris' return, assistant general manager Tony LaCava said both should be pitching again soon.
"Both guys are champing at the bit to get back," LaCava said.
Sanchez, the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect, has been on the disabled list since he suffered a shoulder injury on May 18. LaCava said Sanchez is now pain-free and making progress with his throwing program.
Sanchez was pitching well at Class A Advanced Dunedin before his injury. He was 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and a 37-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42 2/3 innings. Sanchez is ranked No. 32 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospect list.
Norris hasn't pitched since June 9, when a sore forearm forced him out of his start with Lansing in the second inning. An MRI revealed no structural damage, which means the Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect is on track to return soon.
"Norris also is pain-free and is about to start a throwing program," LaCava said.
This is Norris' first year in full-season ball. He is 0-4 with a 5.80 ERA. He has struck out 48 batters and walked 29 in 45 innings.
Reyes, Morrow suit up for rehab game Monday
TORONTO -- Both Brandon Morrow and Jose Reyes will continue their pursuit to put their injury woes behind them on Monday.
The duo will be suiting up for Toronto's Class A Dunedin Blue Jays as they continue their rehab.
"Tonight will be a big night," manager John Gibbons said of Morrow. "We don't want to rush it. He's got to show us he's good and healthy."
Gibbons was referring to his right-hander, but the same could be said for Reyes. Like Morrow, he will be playing in his first rehab game since hitting the disabled list.
The Blue Jays shortstop is expected to log a maximum of five innings, while Morrow will throw in the range of 40-50 pitches.
For both players, it's just another step in the right direction, with both of them expected to face stiffer competition in either Double-A or Triple-A before returning to the Majors.
With Toronto on hot streak, Gibbons' focus is each game
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are playing their best baseball -- entering Monday's game, they have won five straight and nine of their last 12.
Still, nobody is looking too far ahead.
"We're worried about tonight," manager John Gibbons said. "We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We're playing good baseball right now, but we'd just like to win this one tonight."
Their recent play has moved the club to within four games of .500 for the first time since late April, and Adam Lind knows the difference between now and earlier in the year.
"Everything," the Blue Jays first baseman said. "We've come into our own a little bit. …. Everyone knows where we're going to be everyday in the lineup. I think that helps our team get comfortable and succeed."
In the past 12 games, the entire pitching staff has posted a 2.29 ERA, while the offence has scored an average of 5 1/4 runs per game.
However, the Blue Jays still sit 8 1/2 games behind the Red Sox for the American League East lead and 5 1/2 games out of a Wild Card berth, but Toronto's not about to get complacent.
"I think, like any team we have things to improve upon still," Lind said. "We can always do things a little bit better in every part of the game, but we've definitely played better as of late."
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.