Earlier this spring, eight teens from our four different Boys & Girls Clubs competed to be the Children’s Aid representative in the Youth of the Year competition. The competition was stiff, and it was difficult to pick one candidate above all others. But Sage Lopez, from our East Harlem Center, rose to the top and earned the right to travel to Albany and compete for the statewide honor. While he didn’t win, he had a great experience and wrote about his journey and the competition:
After being chosen as The Children's Aid Society Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, I began rehearsing my Youth of the Year speech for the New York State competition. My speech articulates in three minutes who I am, what impact my club has had on me and my entire community, and what my vision is for the youth of the future. At the state competition, in Albany, Youth of the Year candidates from every corner of New York gathered to deliver their club-driven speech, and venerate Youth of the Year winners for being exemplary, young community leaders.
My heart was crushed when I heard one particular Youth of the Year's struggle with adversity in a house where he had to be a grown-up from as early as 12 years old because his parents were substance abusers. While his parents' shortcomings lead to his siblings being put in foster care, and difficult circumstances, he managed to find stability, hope, and refuge at his local Boys & Girls Clubs. We were able to find inspiration when Youths of the Year recalled how their club's presence eradicated teen gang and drug association within a few years. And even I was able to empathize with a Youth of the Year who used to ask when his mother would return home. However this person's scenario was different since he was from a military base club and his mom's job included long deployment periods. Still, the sense that life is uncertain is a feeling almost everyone can relate to...it is not easy to be optimistic when facing adversities, but these individuals succeed and the club is at the backbone of their resiliency.
I felt very inspired by the accomplishments of all my peers at the Albany celebration. I was ecstatic at Dave & Busters when my advisor got a thousand D&B tickets on her first attempt at a game. The exclusive tour of the College of Nanoscale was epic; they have the best in store when it comes to top of the line technology! The historic area surrounding the Capitol and Legislative buildings, and the food, makes Albany worthy of a revisit.
The opportunity to sit in on a Senate hearing on global warming, as well meeting my local representatives such as Senator Bill Perkins, Assemblymen Michael Benedetto, and Assemblymen Robert Rodriguez's staff in their Albany offices, was exciting and memorable. We discussed the importance of providing teenagers with positive programs in their communities, and I was invited to visit them in their NYC offices with other Keystone Club members.
Next year I will not be able to qualify for Youth of the Year because I will be 19. I strongly urge other teens to seek mentorship, membership, and accomplishment as a Boys & Girls Club youth, and run for Youth of the Year in their region. An investment in the club, and an investment in the youth, is honestly an investment for a better future.
Thank you so much, and thanks for reading,Sage Lopez,
Children’s Aid Society 2015 Youth of the Year