When Daniel Flores arrived in Chapel Hill from El Salvador four years ago at age 14 to join his mother, who had left him with his grandmother and aunt six years earlier so she could find a job in the U.S., he could not speak English.
It took him two years to learn the language, and he struggled in school. But this year, he has been taking honors and advanced-placement courses at East Chapel Hill High School. He also has played on the varsity soccer team, and worked at part-time jobs after school and weekends. And since December, he has cared for his mother while she has been undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.
When he enrolls this August at Appalachian State University in Boone, where he plans to major in nursing, he will help pay for school with a $50,000, four-year scholarship from the Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship at Triangle Community Foundation.
“It means a lot to me,” Daniel, 18, says of the scholarship. “When I came here, I didn’t know if I was going to get to finish high school because I didn’t know English. When I was in high school, I didn’t know if I would get to go to college. I’ve been through a lot.”
Leaving El Salvador
When Daniel was five and his sister was 10, his father abandoned the family. “My father never took care of us,” Daniel says. His mother already was working as a sales representative, selling products to supermarkets. But she could not earn enough to support herself and her two children. So, with the help of friend who already was there, she moved to Chapel Hill, where she found a job as a babysitter.
Daniel, who was eight when his mother left, had continued living in San Salvador with his grandmother and aunt and her two children. When he was 13, his grandmother died from a heart attack. So his mother tried to save enough money from her babysitting job to bring him to the U.S.
“My country has a very high violence rate,” Daniel says. “That was one of the reasons that led me to come to America.”
Clearing the language barrier
Because he did not know English, Daniel says, he struggled in eighth grade at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill and in ninth grade at East Chapel Hill High.
“It was really stressful,” he says. “You have to do a lot more work to be at the same level” as other students.
But he got a lot of help from his teachers.
“My teachers in high school always were pushing me to do my best, were always helping me whenever I needed any help,” he says. “And when my mother got sick, they were always there to support me, emotionally and school-wise.”
School and work
Daniel has kept busy. He played on the junior varsity soccer team in 9th and 10th grade, and on the varsity team his junior and senior years, practicing two hours a day every weekday in the fall, and playing for a soccer club two hours every weekday in the off-season. He was a midfielder for the Wildcats’ team that won the 4A Piedmont Athletic Conference (PAC-6) championship in 2014.
Every day after school, Daniels works as an engraver in an engraving store in Chapel Hill. He also works every other weekend as a dog sitter. And during the summer, he works for a painting company and for a carpentry company.
On a typical school day, he wakes up at 7:30 a.m. and eats breakfast with his mother before taking the bus to school. Including his jobs and soccer practice, depending on the season of the year, he gets home at about 7 p.m. or 9 p.m., has dinner, and then does homework before going to bed at 11 or 11:30.
Last December, Daniel’s mother, who is 54, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She has been undergoing chemotherapy and was scheduled to have surgery in late May. Since getting the diagnosis, she has stopped working as a babysitter, and has used her savings and some of the money Daniel earns to pay rent and household expenses. The Seventh Day Adventist Spanish church in Durham that she and Daniel attend also has been providing them with support and assistance.
After he graduates from college, Daniel wants to work in an intensive care unit or emergency room. Nursing, he says, will be “the best way to help people in the most difficult moments of their life.”
While leaving for college will mean separating from his mother, it also will open the door to “a better future for both of us,” he says.
“Life is always up and down,” he says. “You never know what to expect from it. You just have to do your best and wait for the chance to come and make the most of it.”
The Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship from Triangle Community Foundation, he says, “is one of those good things that happen to you, and I want to make the most of it.”
The Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship is one of the many donor funds making an impact in our region. This scholarship was created in loving memory of Felicia Berkman Brewer by her father-in-law, Don Brewer. It creates a life-transforming opportunity for an immigrant or first generation student who has overcome significant adversity, giving them the chance to pursue their dreams and improve their lives.