ORANGE COVE – As the anticipated Youth of the Year competition rolls around, two standout youth members from the Orange Cove Boys & Girls Club are in the running to take the honor for 2024, embodying the program’s mission of personal growth and scholarship pursuit.
Members Lucia and Hazel of the Orange Cove Boys & Girls Club are among the six finalists for the honor, which will be awarded at the annual Youth of the Year dinner and judging competition on Jan. 25. Youth of the Year is one of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s teen programs and allows students to compete for scholarships and more at the local, regional and national levels.
“A lot of these kids start the program pretty shy, pretty unsure of themselves, and throughout the program they become confident in who they are and they discover that people are supportive of them and their dreams,” said Jessica Maxey, Fresno County BGC marketing and communications coordinator.
Maxey said she has seen a lot of teenagers come out of the Youth of the Year program more sure of themselves and prepared for their high school graduation, which is why it’s one of the programs she thinks the Fresno County BGC values the most out of all the teen programs it offers.
Fresno County BGC has only released the first names of the Youth of the Year finalists to protect the students’ privacy. Both of the Orange Cove students have been in the club for multiple years, and Lucia is currently a student at Reedley College who hopes to become a lawyer.
The Youth of the Year program officially starts in October each year, but Maxey said that throughout the entire year, club directors take notice of students in their teen programs who are interested in things like attending college, improving their public speaking and writing skills or building their resume, to gauge who may want to participate in the program.
When the program begins in October, those participating gather a wide variety of materials to officially submit; the process largely mirrors that of applying to a scholarship, Maxey said. Students must write three different essays, prepare a resume and cover letter, receive letters of recommendation from adults in their lives and complete an application packet.
Those applications then go to a panel of judges, which this year includes Gina Cuttone, Jason Del Campo, Jene D’Ambrosio, Marisa Moore and Patricia Vasquez Topete, according to the Fresno County BGC website. Maxey said the judges panel is always composed of “volunteer community members that have some kind of connection with the Boys & Girls Clubs and would just love to participate in it.”
Application packets are then scored by the judges, who review the essays, the student’s academics, GPA and extracurricular activities. Finalists are then chosen from the local clubs — of which Fresno County BGC has 14 — to compete in the competition to be named the Youth of the Year at the county level.
“And then, here in January, they’re getting ready to compete at the event, which is a speech,” Maxey said. “Each candidate prepares a speech to speak in front of the judges and a live audience. That helps them with their public speaking, and it helps them network with people in the community.”
Maxey said that the judges then score the speeches on the same night, add those results with the scores from the applications and announce the winner at the event. There is not a specific prompt for the speech the student has to give, but they are encouraged to share the ways in which participation with the Boys & Girls Clubs has impacted their lives or a lesson they learned through a program.
“Each speech is different and revolves around individuals and the Boys & Girls Clubs,” Maxey said.
Second and third place winners are announced alongside the first place winner, who receives a $3,000 scholarship from the Me-N-Ed’s Founders Scholarship Foundation. Additionally, all finalists receive a $350 scholarship from the Briscoe Family Foundation.
The first place winner becomes the county’s Youth of the Year and can go on to compete at higher levels in the competition. Maxey said the next step is the Northern California Youth of the Year competition, the winner of which will compete at the regional competition and could go on to the national competition.
The National Youth of the Year winner gets the opportunity to visit the White House and meet the president, receives a full-ride scholarship to the college of their choice and receives a car, Maxey said.
Maxey said that locally, participating in this program and becoming even a county-level finalist means a lot to these students.
“Not only do they get a college scholarship, … they get to network with people in the community, CEOs of companies, people who may have a career that they’re interested in,” Maxey said. “A lot of candidates get jobs because of the connections they made throughout the program and the process.”
Community members who wish to attend the Youth of the Year event may register at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County’s website.