The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale’s Red Mountain and Lehi branches have nominated two members to compete against other youth from Valley Boys & Girls Club branches in the Youth of the Year program.
Elyssa Velarde, who is a freshman at Westwood High School, will be representing the Lehi Branch, and Westwood High sophomore Jessica Meneses will represent the Red Mountain Branch. Both are Salt River Pima Maricopa-Indian Community members and are advancing into the next round of the Youth of the Year program.
Local clubs recognize members ages 14 to 18 as Youth of the Month winners and select a Youth of the Year, who then participates in state competitions. State winners each receive a $5,000 scholarship and advance to regional competitions. Regional winners receive an additional $10,000 college scholarship, renewable for four years up to $40,000. Six youth, including five regional winners and a military winner, advance to the National Youth of the Year competition for a chance at an additional scholarship of $25,000, renewable up to $100,000 for four years. The National Youth of the Year represents all Boys & Girls Club youth.
The girls are competing against nominated members from the other Boys & Girls Club branches in the Valley. If one of them were to win, then she would move on to the state-level competition.
“I got nominated in the summer and didn’t know what was expected,” said Velarde. “I was the only girl at the time, and the rest were three boys, and when school started it got a little harder because I had to work on my speech and essay. The speech had to be two minutes long and it had to have some tone to it.”
Velarde added that this is her first time being nominated and she wants to show everyone that she can do this. “I have already showed everyone [my] finalist award and everyone is very happy for me. [I have read] my speech to everyone, which made members of my family cry with excitement.”
“I have been a [Boys & Girls] club member for almost four years,” said Meneses. “I love to play the violin, and I plan to attend Scottsdale Community College after high school, then continuing at Arizona State University. I am planning on becoming a veterinarian.”
When Meneses was nominated, she said she almost didn’t accept. “I thought it wasn’t for me. Then, by continuing in the program, the staff helped me learn about time management, living a healthy lifestyle and many issues that teens are facing. [We talked about] how important it is to give back to your community and how to overcome the past, and how to not let it mess up my future and who I am.”
Meneses described what she likes about Boys & Girls Club: “What I like about the club are the staff and programs. It gave me a lot of opportunities and opened a lot of doors for me as well,” said Meneses. “The staff helped me overcome obstacles, and now I will run against other teens from other branches and also do a panel interview based on politics. It’s fun and hard at the same time, but I like it and am learning from it as well.”
“I think this program is very good for the youth because it enables them to branch out and communicate with different youth from other branches,” said Josh Billison Youth Development Specialist of the Lehi branch. It helps them make more friends and gives them that secondary income for college.”
The Boys & Girls Club offers opportunities for youth to achieve educational goals, learn health and life skills, build sports and fitness skills, and participate in character and leadership programs, art programs and recreational activities. “I want to encourage the teens to take advantage of the Boys & Girls Club. They can teach you so many things, and there are so many opportunities to take advantage of and learn from,” said Meneses.