Hopkins County Boys and Girls Club is gaining area recognition, as evidence by the club recently having the honor of hosting the North Texas Area Council Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year contest.
It’s a big deal, said Patsy Johnson, president of the Area Council of North Texas Area Boys & Girls Clubs.
“This was our first time to host this leg of the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year competition,” Johnson said. “It’s very exciting to be asked to have visitors.”
The two winners from the area contest move on to the state contest, with the top kids there advancing to regional level to compete against the top B&GC youths from several states. The contest culminates with five regional winners meeting in Washington, D.C., to compete for the National Youth of the Year honor, according to information from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s website, www.bgca.org
Earning the title for top youths is an accomplishment in and of itself, but perhaps even more rewarding is the potential for scholarships and serving as the national spokesperson for Boys & Girls Clubs of America for a year, according Johnson.
Johnson described the contest as a “truly inspirational” process in which youths tell their life stories, and described the participants as “outstanding young people.”
Among local officials asked to be on the judging panel were Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell and Sulphur Springs Independent School District Superintendent Patsy Bolton.
Both Bolton and Maxwell said they went into the judging with no idea just how rewarding the experience would be.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Maxwell said. “It was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. It was no small deal.”
“It was remarkable,” Bolton said. “I was so impressed.”
The judging panel listened to the nine students each give a three-minute speech, then held informal interviews with them and were given notebooks containing information about each student and his or her academic and extracurricular activities, along with biographical background information.
“These kids were the cream of the crop,” Maxwell said. “They had all overcome some of the most tragic life situations. I think they’ll really make something of themselves. I literally had goose-bumps the whole day.”
Many were from low income, single parent homes, had been involved in Boys & Girls Club for a number of years.
“Their stories were just overwhelming, how they are so successful and overcome the background they are from,” Bolton said. “It was an emotional time for the people listening to them. After listening to their stories, we wanted each of them to win. They were so good and deserving.”
The nine contestants were considered the best of their clubs and areas. They included Jaymee Wilson, Boys & Girls Clubs of Hopkins County; Leticia Casiano, Boys & Girls Club Austin; Alishia Given, Boys & Girls Club Greater Dallas; Angela Branch, Boys & Girls Club Denton County; Crystal Cox, Boys & Girls Club of Central Texas; Aaron Peloquion, Boys & Girls Club Wichita Falls; Jamara Hogan, Boys & Girls Clubs Arlington; Kendea Walker, Boys & Girls Club Collin County; and Courtney Wilson, Boys & Girls Club Denison.
The judging panel selected Leticia Casiano and Alishia Given to advance to the state level.
Although local contestant Jaymee Wilson did not make the top two to advance to state, she and the other eight competitors were praised for their poise, determination, community involvement and accomplishments.
“We felt the ones we recommended had a good chance to go on to the next level [after state],” Bolton said, noting that some of the students had competed in the contest in previous years and would have an opportunity to do so again.
Maxwell said he was so impressed that he made note of each student’s name and fully expects to see them again in the future, succeeding and doing well for themselves. He said that in addition to school, the students listed jobs they’ve taken on to help their families pay bills. They all listed involvement in community and school activities, are career-oriented and plan to attend college. They also have poise, are articulate, and there’s “not a mediocre one in the bunch.”
Maxwell said each student had a particularly poignant story, but some things really stood out.
One student, whose mother was 15 when she gave birth to her, encouraged her mother to seek a GED, then bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The mother is now attending law school.
Another student is the youngest of 14 siblings, and is being raised by a brother because his mother died when he was in elementary school.
Yet another student is involved in practically every possible sport at school, has two younger siblings, and works at a fast food restaurant to help her parents support the family.
A 16-year impressed Maxwell with her speaking skills, giving a flawless speech. He later learned the student had no prior speech training. That student is involved in the ROTC program, holding a cadet officer’s post.
Despite their separate experiences, the student competitors all noted the role the B&GC has played in their lives.
The contest itself was another step in the students’ development, helping them to “grow in poise and become more confident by entering,” according to Johnson.
Maxwell said observing the students gave him a new appreciation for Boys & Girls Clubs.
“It changed my whole impression of Boys & Girls Club. If just one kid going through a challenging experience is changed for the better because of it, it’s worth it. I encourage any that can to become involved in Boys & Girls Club,” said Maxwell.
“This is the Boys & Girls Club, what’s all about,” Johnson said of the contest.
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