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Michael Chavez grew up in tough times. Now he's training the next generation of Arizona leaders

Asked about being a leader in his community, Michael Chavez said he only considers himself as successful as the kids he mentors.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — While growing up, the prospects for Michael Chavez to be a leader in his West Valley community were slim. Chavez’s father was absent from his life. His mother struggled with substance abuse. As an adolescent, Chavez started to make poor choices.

“I had gotten in trouble with the law a couple of times. Got in trouble in school, suspended,” the 33-year-old Chavez said while sitting on a patio recently at Peoria City Hall.

But Chavez emerged as a leader of his community, despite the odds against him. He is Sports Programs Director for the nonprofit Heart For The City, an organization that inspired him when he was a teen.

“Transformational” coaches

Children often sense when adults around them aren’t being authentic. Growing up, Chavez, who was a natural athlete, said he noticed there were two kinds of coaches.

“As a kid, I ran into a lot of coaches who were transactional, rather than transformational,” Chavez said.

Transactional coaches viewed Chavez as an athlete only. They wanted to make him feel validated because they wanted to recruit him to their team. They saw an opportunity in his talents.

“Their approach was, ‘how can I provide value to you? How can I help guide you? How do I show you how to be a young man in your community?’” Chavez said.

While playing football and baseball at Glendale High School, Chavez said two transformational coaches became mentors to him. One of those coaches was Joe Eriquez, who remains a community leader today in youth sports across the West Valley.

“At practice, there would be times where it would turn into a conversation of, ‘hey, how’s school going? How’s life going? How’s home going?’” Chavez said.

Chavez is “like a son”

Eriquez is also CEO of the nonprofit Heart For the City. The charity provides workforce development, a community garden, private school transportation, and sports leagues for less-fortunate children. Chavez was also involved in sports opportunities the nonprofit provided.

Speaking to 12News, Eriquez talks admirably about Chavez and said he considers him “like a son.”

“Seven out of ten kids in the inner-city don’t have a dad,” Eriquez told12 News earlier this year. “These kids still need someone to walk life with them, someone to guide them.”

Graduating from college and returning to his roots

Chavez graduated from Glendale High School in 2007 and attended Grand Canyon University, where he initially studied architecture. But he realized his passion was for coaching and teaching. He changed his major and graduated from GCU in 2013.

After college, Chavez returned to his roots, now working for Eriquez as the Director of Sports Programs at Heart for the City, among other jobs. Chavez also works at a Heart for the City-sponsored café, Java Grounds; it develops workforce skills for youth. Chavez coaches football players at Phoenix Christian Preparatory School as well.

“You start walking with these kids. The same thing that was displayed for me, I am now doing with these kids,” Chavez said.

Asked about being a leader in his community, Chavez said he only considers himself as successful as the kids he mentors.

“I would love to make a hundred more kids better leaders than me,” Chavez said.

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