Four local teenagers will be recognized this week for overcoming gang life, sexual assaults, poverty and absentee parents to be selected as finalists in the Youth of the Year competition.
“Being named Youth of the Year is the highest honor a Boys & Girls Club member can receive,” said Erika Thompsen, director of development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Nash/Edgecombe counties. “As Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s premier youth recognition program, the Youth of the Year title recognizes outstanding contributions to a member’s family, school, community and Boys & Girls Club, as well as personal challenges and obstacles overcome.”
The winner from the local contest will compete at a state level for a chance to represent North Carolina in regional and national competitions. Winners are eligible for college scholarships and other prizes.
“When I was 13, I wasn’t athletic and I didn’t really talk to anybody, but I remember seeing the Youth of the Year candidates and looking up to them,” candidate Israel King said. “I remember thinking about how lucky I’d be if I got to speak at the podium like them, but now I am that person. I’ve done a big 180 on who I used to be, and the Boys & Girls Club helped me do that.”
King, 18, and three other Rocky Mount club members – Da’Jha’Rea Baines, J’Calvin King and Rosella Campbell – were selected from the 2012 Member of the Month competition to go on to the Youth of the Year contest. They wrote essays, delivered speeches and were interviewed by community leaders. The winner will be announced Tuesday night.
“When I first started my post-high school essay, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was torn between English and nursing,” said Baines, 15. “I had to pick which one I really wanted to do and research about colleges.”
Each of the teens was given a mentor. J’Calvin King said his role models helped him develop the confidence to tell his story.
“This process really gave me confidence and it taught me that I can overcome anything as long as I put my mind to it,” said King, 16.
“Youth of the Year has had a big impact on my life. It taught me that if I can make it, anyone can.”
All four contestants are junior staff members who assist club staff whenever possible.
“Being a junior staffer helps us a lot by teaching patience and organization and interviewing skills,” Campbell said. “Everything we might need in a job or a career, it helps with.”
Baines said the competition continued the life skills the club taught her, including honesty, dedication, humility, respect for others and being a leader.
“All of us have been impacted by the Boys & Girls Clubs,” she said. “It is not going to be easy for them to choose one of us as the Youth of the Year because every one of us has gone through something in our lives and all of us want to make a positive contribution and help out.”
The community is invited to celebrate the four Youth of the Year finalists and three Junior Youth of the Year contestants with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and the program to follow at the Gateway Convention Center. Tickets are $25 a person. Call 977-9924 for more information.