Inspiring, encouraging and enabling the youth that will one day lead the next generation is at the core of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County (BGCTC). Each year, as dozens of kids learn and grow throughout the eight local branches, stand out individuals are recognized before the culmination of the Youth of the Year announcement, this year held in a Community Celebration on February 3.
The BGCTC was established in 2001 with the mission of providing unique programs and activities to prepare young people for success. These innovative programs are carefully designed to empower youth to excel in school, become good citizens and lead healthy, productive lives.
The BGCTC communications and events coordinator, Heather Harris knows the importance of the program from both a personal and professional standpoint, having been a part of the club for over 15 years. “I started working with the club as a parent,” explains Heather, “before volunteering, joining as a part-time staff member, program director and now my current role. BGCTC is very deep routed in the community, and from a personal stance, I am grateful for how the club has been there to support my family and encourage my daughters to grow and thrive. Because of what my girls have gained, I wanted to give back to our community.”
Growing the Club over the past 20 years has meant implementing various changes to better serve Thurston County’s youth. One of the biggest changes came in 2014 with the addition of the first Community Celebration to honor Youth of the Year finalists. Among other additions to the BGCTC, the Club continues to expand while providing an extension of the school day where everyone can find a place to fit in.
Choosing Thurston County’s Youth of the Year
While many kids are involved in the Clubs at varying levels, those who want to step up and have a drive to do something more go on to run for Youth of the Year. “These kids are heavily involved in their respective Clubs,” explains Heather. “With a desire to continue to grow their personal leadership skills, those interested are able to apply for Youth of the Year.”
Before submitting their application, the clubmates must have met the requirement of two years of Club membership as well as academic and community service requirements. Once officially added to the pool of candidates in their Club, each student is required to write essays, submit letters of endorsement, take part in an interview and prepare and present a speech about their experiences to a panel of local judges. Once a stand-out youth has been selected to represent their branch, they head to a weekend-long preparation retreat before moving on to the county-wide competition.
2023 Youth of the Year Finalists
- Hadley Hughes, freshman at Rochester High School
- Zackaeus Trevino, freshman at Timberline High school
- Lilly Wilson, freshman at Black Hills High School
Before the unveiling of the 2023 Youth of the Year recipient, the finalists took part in the next round of judging on January 31. This process included presenting their three-minute speech and essays, as well as answering additional interview questions from a panel of six judges.
With excitement buzzing through the air, the long-awaited Community Celebration took place in front of 200 guests at the Raj Manhas Activity Center. There, the 2023 Youth of the Year was presented to Lilly Wilson by last year’s recipient, Cara Chiokai.
For the 2023 finalists, the Bruno and Evelyne Betti Scholarship Foundation stepped up to provide $1,500 scholarships to the two runners up while Lilly was awarded a $9,000 scholarship to be used to further their education.
Dedication to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County and her Community
As a Club member at the Tumwater branch, Lilly earned the honor of this year’s Youth of Year by exemplifying what is means to be a positive influence on all those around her. Lilly spends much of her time volunteering with the younger members and hopes to one day work at the Club that has had such a profound effect on her life. As a 2022 Youth of the Year finalist, Lilly discussed how last year’s retreat helped her hone in her writing skills, make friends from other Clubs and apply the experiences to her life today.
“I met Lilly last year at the retreat when she was a finalist for the first time,” states Heather. “She was pretty quiet and stayed to herself in that new setting, but she came into it willing to put in the work and learn. Since then, we have all seen tremendous growth in Lilly. She has an old soul, is wise beyond her years and isn’t worried about needing to be like anyone else. She’s incredibly genuine and self-assured in who she is and what she wants to do. I’m very proud of her growth, how she’s embraced the Club and found her community.”
While the three finalists each had their own stand-out qualities, what inspired Heather the most was the support that of the trio had for one another. “I’ve never witnessed something like their connection and support for one another,” expresses Heather. “The three connected on a very deep level and were genuinely so excited and proud of one another. I know they have a very special connection and potential for lifelong friendships.”
While the statewide Youth of the Year competition on March 23 nears, everyone involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County has no doubt that Lilly will excel. The finalists from across the state will be take part in public speaking workshops, meet the Governor, then head to the Bell Harbor International Event Center where judges from large corporations will award one individual with the honor. “I’m fully confident that Lilly will continue to represent us with the grace she possesses in a way that emulates everything the Boys & Girls Club stands for. She has big dreams and goals that we all know she will achieve.”
To find out more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County program, call 360.956.0755, visit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County website or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. If you or someone you know may be interested in making a positive impact in a child’s life, consider volunteering for a cause that benefits everyone in the community.