Homeless. Grieving. Gang member. Scared. Witness to violence and addiction. Defeated.
Three teenagers. Three very personal stories. And three endings that defy the stereotypes. Each of these amazing young men found a new path for their lives through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties.
It is in testimonials like these that we see our mission fulfilled. The Boys & Girls Club is committed to empowering all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.
These young men happen to be our 2016 Youth of the Year honorees, chosen to represent our club sites that have teen centers: the Music & Arts Center in downtown Kennewick, the Main Branch and the Bobbie Littrell Club in Pasco, and the Prosser Park Branch Club.
Standing tall at the podium, looking sharp in dress shirts and ties, they spoke to a gym filled with community members and peers during the Boys & Girls Club’s Great Day for Kids event in late January. With a resonating theme of perseverance and self-discipline, each of these teens told about the unbelievable struggles they have experienced — challenges that might be where they come from but are not where they are going.
Youth of the Year is the highest award given at the Boys & Girls Club, and is part of a nationwide recognition program. We are honored to call these three teens Boys & Girls Club members and privileged to be part of their stories.
We know there are many more teens in our community who long for a safe, positive place where they can thrive with the support of positive adult role models. This element of the Boys & Girls Club mission is perhaps most needed in the lives of teenagers today.
The current issues facing teens can be alarming:
• 35 percent drink alcohol at least once a month.
• Marijuana use has increased since 2005, with 25 percent of teens now using regularly.
• Sedentary screen time is on the rise.
• Physical activity is declining.
With the generosity of this community, we’ve started the long process of serving teens more effectively, including renovating two of our four teen spaces so they are inviting places for young adults to hang out. We have added even more great staff members who are a heart for our mission, and stay open longer for this age group by providing appealing events. We are ensuring that our local teens are well rounded by focusing on our three priority outcomes of academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and citizenship.
Our work — to speak hope into the lives of Boys & Girls Club teens — has just begun. We need more dedicated space for teenagers. We need to grow our quality programs that are more interesting than the alternative of getting into trouble. We need more staff who are living examples of our mission. We need adults like you to be mentors — you’d be amazed at how much difference you can make by spending just one afternoon a month with a small group of teenagers. The Boys & Girls Club will serve more teens, more often, to provide opportunity to a generation seeking answers. Instead of ignoring or judging our local teens, we invite you to join us in embracing them and walking alongside them toward a better life.
With the support of the Boys & Girls Club, our three Youth of the Year honorees are writing new chapters in their life stories. A former gang member has taken steps toward a career as a parole officer. Once homeless, a teen is now confident in his dreams of becoming a writer. Leveraging memories of calling the police for help with his fighting parents, our Youth of the Year is well on his way toward becoming a police chief.
We believe wholeheartedly that all three will succeed. We believe because, with your support, great futures start here.