Honoring the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County’s Youth of the Year: Keoni Borja


Nationwide, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America encompass more than 5,000 clubs that serve 3.3 million kids each year. Locally, our Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County welcome more than 3,000 kids to one of eight sites for vital after school and summer programming, tutoring and fun activities in a safe, welcoming environment.

Their hard work pays off by producing amazing students with tremendous promise for the future. At the recent Youth of the Year celebration, North Thurston High School student Keoni Borja was awarded this year’s title and now goes on to represent the county at state – and possibly even national – ceremonies later in 2024.

Honoring Local Kids at the 2024 Youth of the Year Celebration

Youth of the Year is so much more than just a party. Tami Collins, director of resource development for BGCTC, calls it the premier recognition program for Boys & Girls Clubs. She explains that nominees must embody organizational values of leadership, service, academic excellence and healthy lifestyles. Students being considered for Youth of the Year enjoy programming to develop their leadership qualities, speech writing and presentation, interview skills and even job shadowing.

These participants also attend a weekend retreat, says Collins. “Four different Boys & Girls Club organizations in Washington State come together to work on the Youth of the Year process of essay writing, presenting speeches, providing feedback, mock interview sessions and a lot of team building,” she explains. Local nominees joining Keoni include Kate from Lacey, Kamden from Rochester and Zandr from Yelm.

four youth standing in the snow outside a log cabin
On February 2, 2024, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County honored and celebrated their Youth of the Year. Photo courtesy: Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County

This year’s Youth of the Year Community Celebration took place on February 2, 2024, and welcomed guests to meet, celebrate and be inspired by these amazing kids. The winner moves on to the state-level competition on March 28, 2024, in Seattle.

Judging was done by Judy Jones (Thurston County Food Bank), Sheriff Sanders (Thurston County Sheriff), Amee Kiefer (TBG Holdings/BTGCTC Board member), Carrie Benjamin (Umpqua Bank/BGCTC Board member) and Dr. Tony Agtarap (Olympia Orthopaedic Associates/BGCTC Emeritus Board member).

Youth of the Year judges pictured from left: Judy Jones (Thurston County Food Bank), Sheriff Sanders (Thurston County Sheriff), Amee Kiefer (TBG Holdings), Carrie Benjamin (Umpqua Bank) and Dr. Tony Agtarap (Olympia Orthopaedic Associates). Photo courtesy: Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County

Winner Keoni Borja Represents North Thurston High School and Raj Manhas Activity Center (RMAC) Branch of Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County

BGCTC CEO Shellica Trevino congratulates Keoni Borja for his recent win. “Keoni is going to represent our Clubs well at state,” she says, “he is so full of character and an appreciation for the life he has been blessed with, he inspires me. I am so excited for him to continue the ride that is the Youth of the Year program.”

And Trevino’s excitement is contagious. “Our Youth of the Year program is my favorite of all the programs we offer,” she explains. “It involves staff at all levels, board members and community members all teaming up to pour into our youth of the year participants. Our youth are empowered to dig deep and discover who they are, what they have overcome and visualize who they want to be in their future. I am proud of each of them for the work they put in. This experience will propel them into their great future, and that is what the Club is all about, inspiring and enabling youth to realize their greatness.”

As well as the award and chance to progress further, Borja was also granted the inaugural Duane and Lillian Stookey Youth of the Year scholarship. This covers up to one year’s tuition, says Trevino, equivalent to that of a university in Washington state. Other branch candidates were each awarded a $1500 Bruno & Evelyne Betti Scholarship, to be used for college or trade school.

Winner Keoni Borja (pictured) will now go on to represent the region at the state level with a competition in Seattle on March 28, 2024. Photo courtesy: Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County

Thurston County Loves and Supports their Boys & Girls Clubs

These dedicated kids aren’t the only ones working to make Thurston County better. “All the great work being done through Clubs would not be possible without the generous support of the community,” says Collins. “We would like to thank our Sustaining Partners for their commitment to helping us to inspire and enable youth to realize their greatness: OlyFed, The Stars Foundation of Thurston County, The Mike Tice Foundation, Yelm Cinemas, Uptown Lounge and The Bruno & Evelyn Betti Foundation.”

You too can help local youth build strong, healthy futures. Check out other upcoming BGCTC events and fundraisers, donate directly or through workplace giving and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and X. Sign up for their mailing list to have details come to you as they arise.

We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child but in Thurston County, that village includes the love, care and super fun times only a Boys & Girls Club can bring. Parents, sign your kids up today and you could soon be cheering on your very own Youth of the Year.

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