By Erin Porteous, CEO

In February, I was lucky enough to be in the room as 20 of the best and brightest kids in Denver participated in our citywide Youth of the Year competition. And even though it already feels like a world away, I keep going back to that night in my memory.

Truthfully, the optimism and hope of that evening has become a north star for me as we collectively grapple with this global crisis.

By Erin Porteous, CEO

In February, I was lucky enough to be in the room as 20 of the best and brightest kids in Denver participated in our citywide Youth of the Year competition. And even though it already feels like a world away, I keep going back to that night in my memory.

Truthfully, the optimism and hope of that evening has become a north star for me as we collectively grapple with this global crisis.

Beyond those very tangible benefits, though, the Youth of the Year competition is about each individual Club kid – their accomplishments and their dreams. As I sat in our offices two months ago with our 20 Club members who were preparing to interview in the hopes of winning at the city level, I saw their potential. Some wore full suits and waited with a measured gaze. Others were giggling with friends in nervous laughter. Still others reviewed notecards and notes on their phones, hoping they were prepared for questions from a panel of judges made up of Denver’s most prominent civic and business leaders. In their eyes, I saw nerves, yes, but more than that – I saw ambition. I saw self-doubt left by the wayside and the spark of dreams within reach. I saw Club kids who were once shy and withdrawn now transformed into articulate teenagers, confidently sharing their stories. In their own words:

How would you change the world? 

“If I could change the world, I would want everyone to have the courage to stand up against discrimination and ignorance.”  

What does the Club mean to you? 

“My first encounter with the Club was at 8 years old. Initially, I wanted no part of this ‘club’. I was apprehensive and introverted unlike most children my age. I was constantly thinking of ways to reach my unrealistic dreams. Not because I was an imaginative 8 year-old, but rather I was determined to climb out of the deep, dark, and desolate hole I was in. The Club offered me a meal, genuine love and support from my mentors and peers, and a safe place to simply be a kid.” 

What is your vision for America’s youth? 

“For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to change the world, not because I want to be remembered or famous, but to give the generations to come a world where they can feel safe being who they are; their true selves, a world that didn’t exist for me.” 

What is your personal brand? 

“When people think of me, I want them to think of a determined young man who is working hard to earn a great education and who always works toward creating a healthy, positive life. I follow my own path, and I try to not stray from that path no matter what obstacles come my way.” 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It was truly a privilege to spend time with our Club kids as they went through the Youth of the Year process. While I know that they learn so much, I would argue that what we learn from them is even greater: true perseverance, resilience and determination in the face of what are often systemic obstacles in their lives. Their ability to overcome those and not only survive, but truly thrive, is the definition of inspiring.  

Typically, we recognize our Youth of the Year winners at our annual Gala, which was originally scheduled for May 2. But these are atypical times; as with all other large events, we have postponed our Gala. But that doesn’t change the fact that every single one of our Club kids who competed at the city level deserves recognition for their dedication, their courage and their willingness to share their dreams with usWith that in mind, I want to take the opportunity now to recognize our 2020 Youth of the Year City Winners: 

Janeaya

Senior Youth of the Year

Jonathan

Junior Youth of the Year

Nashara

10-13 Eastside Youth of the Year

Lorena

10-13 Westside Youth of the Year

Sometimes it feels hard to fully encapsulate what we do at Boys & Girls Clubs – to explain what it means to truly serve kids from their first day of kindergarten all the way to high school graduation. But our Youth of the Year competition is an illustration of our influence and impact; the work we do at Boys & Girls Clubs starts with safety and trust, but ends with our Club kids becoming leaders, becoming community members, becoming everything they were meant to be. Even now, when we are facing unprecedented obstacles as a society and a nation, that spirit of hope remains. And our Club kids are waiting for us. They are still bright, they are still limitless, and they are all potential.