ORANGE COVE – Orange Cove local and Reedley College student Lucia Pineda made history when she was named the Boys & Girls Clubs (BGC) of Fresno County’s Youth of the Year alongside another member.
Pineda tied with Zimmerman Club member Brittain, whose last name has not been provided, for first place at the Youth of the Year competition on Jan. 25. As an award winner, she is the recipient of multiple scholarships and will go on to compete at the regional level for the title of Northern California Youth of the Year.
“It’s many mixed emotions. I’m very honored, I’m very proud of myself, very proud of the other winner as well,” Pineda said. “It’s just a big accomplishment; I’ve been working very, very hard.”
Youth of the Year is a multi-step competition hosted by Boys & Girls Clubs at the county, state and national levels every year. Teens in the club who may be interested in developing communication and career readiness skills are identified by their club leaders and encouraged to submit applications to the competition every fall.
Finalists then prepare a speech for an in-person event, and whoever is named the county Youth of the Year will continue on to the state level, which is split into north and south regions in California.
Competition finalists receive numerous scholarships and other opportunities meant to help them pursue higher education goals. Pineda and Brittain both received $3,000 scholarships from Me-N-Ed’s, $500 in gift cards and a Me-N-Ed’s pizza-for-a-year voucher — which Pineda said she donated back to the Orange Cove Club.
All finalists, regardless of competition placement, received a $350 award from the Briscoe Family Foundation to recognize their achievements.
Both Pineda and Brittain were also finalists in the 2023 Youth of the Year competition. Although Pineda did not place last year, she said that experience helped her get to first place this year.
“I always told myself I’m gonna come back and I’m gonna come back stronger and work harder,” Pineda said. “That’s exactly what I did. I shared a really deep story that has always been difficult for me to even talk about, and I went out there and I won, so it was really amazing.”
Pineda said she learned to use her own personal vulnerability to her advantage by talking about a difficult, traumatic time in her life and sharing a message that could help other people. She said working on this speech and topic also helped her with her personal growth and reflect on events that led her to where she is now in life.
Journey to Youth of the Year
When she first joined the Boys & Girls Club, Pineda said she was shy and not confident with herself. Her time at the club and her experience with specific club programs have been key factors in shaping who she is now, especially when developing her leadership skills and academic focus, she said.
“This year, I mentally prepared myself … and I told myself, even if I didn’t win this competition, my whole purpose was to impact at least one person, and that would have been the goal,” Pineda said. “But I’m really happy I won, because I just know that I impacted a lot of people.”
Pineda said she also owes a lot of her personal growth to Orange Cove Club Director Isaiah Lopez, who has been an important mentor to her. Pineda said Lopez helped her discover her academic passion and has connected her with a lot of opportunities at the Boys & Girls Club.
Lopez became director of the club in April 2023, and said he is really proud of all of the strides that everyone at the Orange Cove Club has made.
He noted that the Youth of the Year competition brought along many memorable achievements, including the first time the Fresno County BGC had a tie for first place, the first time a female candidate has won the award since 2020, the first time an Orange Cove Club member has won since 2017 and the second year in a row the Orange Cove Club has had two finalists in the competition.
It was previously a policy that each club within the Fresno County BGC could only nominate one member for the Youth of the Year competition, but Lopez said it was Pineda who spoke up last year and got that policy changed.
Thanks to Pineda, Lopez said another Orange Cove Club member took second place in the 2023 competition, and this year Orange Cove Club member Hazel was also a finalist.
“Overall, I’m really proud of the strides that the Orange Cove Club has made this past year,” Lopez said. “I think that Orange Cove has lots of potential, and I really think that the youth such as Lucia and everyone else have really paved the way for Orange Cove to get the recognition that it finally deserves.”
The Orange Cove Club is coming up on its 30th year, Lopez said, and while it has received attention from the community, he is hoping that these accomplishments of its members will help the club continue to grow. In 2023, the club had slightly more than 180 members, and Lopez said he hopes that will rise to more than 200 in the next year.
A graduate of Kings Canyon High School, Pineda is currently studying political science at Reedley College, with the end goal of becoming a divorce attorney.
Pineda has been involved with the Boys & Girls Club for three years, is the president of the Keystone program — for which she served as the parliamentarian last year — and takes part in the job readiness program as well. She said it’s the younger kids at the club that really drive her passion for the Boys & Girls Club.
“Since I didn’t have a childhood, they are giving me the childhood I didn’t have,” Pineda said. “I see them as my little siblings, if not as if they were mine. I feel in my heart like as long as they’re happy and they’re seeing someone being their role model, I’m gonna be happy for them.”
Pineda said that ever since she joined the club and discovered what it really was and what it is about, it’s something she has wanted to enhance and contribute to in a positive way. Lopez said that Pineda contributes in that positive way by being a mentor for the younger kids and by giving back to the programs she has been involved in.
For example, the Orange Cove Club hosts a job readiness program that provides teens with monthly paid internships. After going through the program herself many times, Pineda now sits on the club’s interview panel for other students in the program and helps others develop their resume, cover letter and interview skills.
Moving forward, Pineda will apply for the Northern California Youth of the Year competition, which is scheduled for the spring. The winner from that competition will continue on to the Pacific Youth of the Year competition, which is set for May 30 in Beverly Hills.
Pineda said that she is definitely nervous for the Northern California competition because it’s a bigger step, but she’s confident she can accomplish it. After a whirlwind of a busy time these last few weeks, Pineda is ultimately grateful for everything the Boys & Girls Club has brought to her life.
“I would like to say thank you to everyone at Youth of the Year for everything that they do,” Pineda said. “It’s three to four months of really hard work — not just from the participants but also from the people behind the scenes. Everybody there is always so kind and nurturing … and it’s mentors like Isaiah that really enhance our leadership and our skills to overcome a lot of obstacles and be our true selves.”