Youth of the Year 2023 Selection
WHAT: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico (BGCPR) recognizes leadership of youth highlighted by their contribution to their family, school, community and Club, as well as personal challenges faced and the obstacles that were conquered.
HOW: The program is promoted throughout the year in Clubs to cultivate good character, personal development and leadership skills among young people. The Clubs honor members between the ages of 16 and 18 who were selected as Youth of The Month and choose their Club’s Youth of the Year, who then participates in the island-wide contest. During this, a jury of professional leaders and public figures choose the Youth of the Year from BGCPR. The winner receives scholarships for bachelor studies and becomes the official spokesperson for the socioeconomically disadvantaged youth of Puerto Rico.
They also participate in the Northeast Regional Competition at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America at a national level. Then, five regional winners are selected, who receive a another scholarship and compete in July in Washington, D.C. for the title of America’s Youth of the Year.
Since the program began in 1947, the five regional winners have been recognized at a breakfast in the United States Congress. The National Youth of The Year winner receives an additional $15,000 scholarship.
RESULTS: During one year, BGCPR’s winner for Youth of the Year is the representative and spokesperson for more than 15,500 children and young people impacted by BGCPR. Throughout the year, the Youth of the Year participates in groups or forums that address youth-competing topics and represents BGCPR’s role in transforming the lives of children and young people. As a spokesperson, he or she participates in various activities in front of important government, business, civic, and community leaders.
In her seven-years at the Club, Sofía has left a legacy that she hopes will be continued by new generations of children and young people. She has led initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles through diet, resume the Club’s home garden and guide boys and girls to become interested in STEM disciplines.
With the support of the Club’s mentors and her mother, two years ago she enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus to advance credits. “With a lot of effort, dedication, and help, I advanced the first parts of humanities and social sciences. I am currently in my senior year of high school and, at the same time, I study on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the university to complete these courses”, highlights the future neurosurgeon, who created a baking business to cover university expenses.
Sofía values the recognition that the Club gives to dedication and effort of the participants, and the emotional support they have provided to manage and overcome personal situations. “My story has helped me grow as a person and taught me to help others who have gone through similar situations. It shows me that, no matter how difficult it is, you should not give up because others see you fighting and are inspired”, says the daughter of a single mother.
Jeremy Lorenzo Suriel has been selected as Youth of the Year for the Bayamón Club and wants to use this platform to inspire young people who have had experiences similar to his.
“Thanks to the Club, I have been able to make healthy connections that have led me to key lessons in my development,” he says. Of these, he highlights the relationships with mentors who have added to his support system, the reconnection with one of his passions (art) and the affinity with the entrepreneurship program, which has inspired one of his goals.
Jeremy wants to study to create his own business and, in this way, help people who have gone through the process of being an immigrant, fighting for citizenship, leaving family and university degrees in process, like his mother. “I wish for my entire community accessibility to decent work and the freedom to live without fear,” says the young man of Dominican parents born in Puerto Rico.
He also appreciates the support of the Club during the pandemic: access to computers and the internet to take his classes and “the food security that the Club’s meals provided me and my siblings. This ensured that my mother, who worked late, did not have to worry about.
Jeremy has represented Puerto Rico through baseball and wants to do the same with the title of Youth of the Year.
Joediel joined the Club two years and 10 months ago at a key moment in his life: his return to Puerto Rico after seven years living in the United States, just one month before the pandemic. At the Club he found a judgment-free zone (he had no qualms about not speaking Spanish fluently) and a support group to adapt to the changes, strengthen his academic performance and overcome the feeling of loneliness and loss that he experienced.
“The ‘staff’ and the ‘atmosphere’ of the Club make the difference. The ‘staff’ is made up of professional and empathetic people who show respect, affection, and acceptance. The atmosphere is one of happiness and relaxation. Walking through its doors I feel relief; the stress disappears when receiving the warm greetings of the leaders and my friends. The Club feels like a home”, he maintains.
Joediel defines himself as a passionate person with diverse interests such as reading, science, photography, drawing, community service, and environmental protection. For this reason, he values the guidance and mentoring he has received at the Club in deciding to study marine biology upon graduation from high school. “The leaders and other Club Youth of the Year have helped me set short- and long-term goals, even at times when I doubted myself and my future,” says the guitarist-in-training.
Aracelys Soto López is the new Youth of the Year for Isabela Club! In her 9 years as a member of the Club, Aracelys has cultivated the areas that she considers most important in her life: her education, comprehensive well-being, basketball, and empathetic leadership.
The space promoted and strengthened her in many directions: basketball, dance, science, and community service, having represented the youth of the Club in competitions and forums related to these fields. “The Club has allowed me to participate in the construction of a solar car to represent the youth in Connecticut to take mentoring workshops and, at the same time, present an environmental project to preserve the beaches of Isabela… Here I found a sense of belonging and I developed my passion for helping others. During the time I stay at the Club, I will make the most to acquire more skills, help others, and leave a legacy that inspires others to leave theirs”, says the future lawyer.
Her legacy as a young woman from public housing is the determination and discipline to maintain academic excellence, earn an athletic scholarship that got her into the school of her dreams, speak out against bullying, and lead the message of a youth with the potential to change the world. “The Club made a radical change in my life, achieving my own vision of my potential, of what I am and how I can contribute to society”, she maintains
At six years old, when Xavier Malavé arrived at Club de Las Margaritas for the first time, he felt a kind and warm welcome that made him feel comfortable, as if he were entering his second home and another great family. “I entered the Club with the main purpose of having fun. As I grew up, I realized that it offered a world beyond”, says the student of the electricity course at Escuela Vocacional Metropolitana Miguel Such.
The Club also validated what I had understood at an early age as the son of a fighter, hardworking, and studious single mother who just completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. “Having people who protect and inspire you from a young age is decisive for positive training. The absence of role models and support structures are some of my concerns as a leader and a young person. Boys, girls, and young people need positive spaces like the home and the Club to train, grow and believe in ourselves”.
Xavier envisions forging a career related to electronics while continuing to develop community projects that benefit the community and the environment, as he has done at the Club through the Keystone leadership program. “The Club, the leaders and the opportunities received have shaped my character, they have inspired me to trust myself more, make more responsible decisions and make a difference. I feel more prepared to achieve success, face life’s challenges, and develop as a student, professional, leader, and citizen of excellence.”
Ten years of positive experiences at the Club have led Jandiel to find parallels between the programs that have transformed him the most: the arts and “Juntos Sanamos”. “Both helped me discover more about myself, develop my creativity, improve my self-esteem, recognize my feelings, be a leader, supportive, empathetic, and generate positive skills to handle moments of anxiety,” says the student of the nursing program at Escuela Vocacional Eladio Rivera Quiñones.
These experiences have helped him make difficult decisions and gain self-confidence when undertaking or resuming projects. “Recently, I started practicing athletics, a sport that I gave up at 10 years old because I didn’t see progress in myself,” he says, determined to conquer the track.
Another of the goals that Jandiel has in mind is to study biological sciences “to learn more about living things, their behavior and development, and then study medicine. I want to be able to continue helping others in the future and gain more knowledge of everything around me.”
In addition, as Youth of the Year, artist and leader, Jandiel is committed to contributing to the strengthening and hope of the people in Loíza, as he has done through various initiatives: painting murals with positive messages, distributing food to people in need and cleaning up abandoned structures. “Each of those moments has marked me. They have revealed to me how great my empathy is towards others and that, without realizing it, I have improved the lives of many”, he maintains.
Girayshelee Marie García Agosto
At two key moments in her life, Girayshelee Marie García Agosto, the new Young of the Year of Luis Llorens Torres Club, has confirmed that the Club is a fun, magical and safe place. As soon as she began attending at her eight-years-old, she felt welcome and her leaders identified her sports skills, especially soccer and baseball, and encouraged her to participate in the educational program. “They also taught me to share with other boys and girls, strengthening my socialization skills,” she remembers.
“Later, I went to live in the United States for three years. I couldn’t say goodbye to the leaders, but I never forgot about them… until one day we finally moved to Puerto Rico and the first place I visited was the Boys & Girls Club of Luis Llorens Torres”.
From her experiences abroad, she came with frustration for not having lived in a stable place, not being able to adapt to the cities where she lived, not practicing the sport she was passionate about (basketball) and lowering her grades at school. At the Club, she would find a positive atmosphere where she would work on those areas until she became a young entrepreneur, leader, confident, with confidence in herself and in others. And she found the support she needed to improve her academic performance, get into a school with advanced programs, and get a basketball coach!
In addition, thanks to leadership development programs such as Keystone, she has carried out projects to solve community problems and strengthened her emotions to give voice to child abuse. “I will always go to the Club because I feel like family here, because I know that I have a lot to offer and I am willing to continue growing, developing myself and helping others who are in the same position that I was,” said the Club’s basketball player. from Las Criollitas de Caguas, where she received a scholarship for her performance.
Jeshua learned to adapt to change early in life and see learning opportunities during adversity. After living with her grandmother in Mayagüez, he went to a home from the Department of the Family “on the other side of Puerto Rico: Ceiba.” To the lessons obtained from this experience were added those that the Boys & Girls Club of Mayagüez brought once he returned to his hometown.
“Here I have grown as a student and a human being thanks to the tutoring, physical activities, and post-secondary support programs, leadership development, and emotional support. At the Club I can open to new things without fear of being judged. The feeling of safety and freedom cannot be compared to anything else”, says the senior year student at the Eugenio María de Hostos School.
One of Jeshua’s most significant successes at the Club has been discovering and developing her empathy. “Having the opportunity to meet different people with different lives and thoughts has made me understand many things. The biggest effort I have made, and I intend to continue doing is to encourage my community to be united and have a healthy and clean environment. As a leader, I want to carry a message of unity and improvement, individually and collectively. I want no person or community to feel repressed. If communities and families stayed together, we would be invincible”, maintains who also advocates for a more equitable, fairer, and egalitarian world.
For Jieshua, the Club “is not just a place to go after school but represents an escape…here you don’t feel pressured like in the daily routine, but they give you a sense of freedom with guidance, surrounded by friends and leaders who really appreciate you.” One of the most significant supports that he received from his Club mentors was understanding that he was a victim of bullying, handling the problem, and strengthening his emotions and academic achievement, which were affected by this situation.
In addition, he discovered and developed his own leadership, a quality that he has used to help others. “For me, the most important thing that the Club has given me has been to establish healthy relationships with new friends and mentors, who have become part of my family,” says the musician, who plays guitar, drums and cajon. Today he sees and feels his two families — the biological and the extended one from the Club — as bands where each member is a key instrument to give a great show.
In his repertoire is the study of industrial engineering or the establishment of his own company. “I don’t know what the future holds me, but I know that the song that my family’s band and the Club’s band produce motivates me to help others find their own band,” says the student of the tinsmith and paint course at Escuela Vocacional Antonio Fernós Isern.