Upon entering the Veterans Memorial Building last Thursday night for The United Boys & Girls Club’s Youth of the Year award dinner, the dinning hall was filled with excitement and pride as people of all ages anxiously awaited the speeches from the kids, and of course the announcement of this year’s winner.
Every year, The United Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County come together to present the Youth of the Year award — established in 1947 — to one young person from the four participating clubs in recognition of their personal growth and participation within the club. Representatives from each of the four clubs — Lompoc, Westside Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, and Goleta — chose one candidate who they feel best exemplifies the mentorship and leadership qualities that the organization strives to inspire in all its members. After being selected, each of the kids is expected to prepare two essays and a speech, to be presented at the dinner, in addition to providing transcripts and letters of recommendation for the judges to look over.
Originally established in 1938, the Santa Barbara County clubs now work with 5,000 to 6,000 kids per year, working “to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive and caring citizens,” according to their program’s mission statement. The winner of this year’s award was presented with a $500 scholarship to the college of their choice upon enrollment as well as the opportunity to compete in a regional presentation with kids from clubs in different counties for another scholarship award.
This year’s participants included Kalique Love from the Lompoc club, Skylar Rauch from the S.B. Westside club, Stephanie Esparza from the Carpinteria club, and Andrea Gallardo from the Goleta Club. These four kids, ranging in age from 7th to 12th grade, all exhibited extraordinary leadership qualities and dedication to their clubs through unbelievable hours of volunteer work. At one point or another in their speeches, each of them described how influential the club has been to their life and personal success, how the club has “become my second home,” and how they “accept me for who I am,” in the words of Esparza and Gallardo, respectively. Rauch described in his speech how he hopes to go to college and receive his degree in child psychology “to help those children like [himself] that have no boys and girls club to find a home away from home.” Love, the youngest of the four presenters at 12 years old, described how he dreams of one day becoming a scientist and how the club is a place where “[he] and [his] friends can have fun and [he] and [his] peers can learn.”
This year’s winner, Gallardo of Goleta, is 16 years old and will be the first person in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. With the help of the $500 scholarship, she hopes to attend San Diego State University where she wants to study math and business. When asked how it felt to have received the award, she was nearly speechless, simply stating that it felt “fantastic” and that she still could not believe she had won.
At the end of the speeches, the crowd gave the four presenters a standing ovation, undoubtedly awestruck by the passion and honesty within each presentation. It was obvious throughout the entirety of the presentations by the kids and directors alike that the work done by The United Boys & Girls Clubs touches the lives of everyone involved, most importantly the kids, for “that’s why we’re here, we’re here for the kids,” emphasized Board President Diana Langley.