'Youth of the Year' finalists speak out

Eighth-graders speak of struggles, perseverance in contest sponsored by Boys & Girls Club

Words like "perseverance" and "sagacious" peppered the speeches of eighth-graders vying to be named "Youth of the Year" last week in a competition of the Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula.

Omar Avellan, originally from Nicaragua and now an eighth-grader at Hoover School in Redwood City, was named "Youth of the Year" Nov. 8 after an evening of speech-making judged by a panel of outside volunteers, including the managing partner of a technology startup and an assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors.

Avellan credited his family and his education with nurturing his creativity and helping him achieve his goals.

Finalist Roman Loza, an eighth-grader at Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto, said he tries to live up to the word "sagacious" – being wise and intelligent – in guiding his younger brother, 9 years his junior.

"One of my hardest obstacles to face" was moving to East Palo Alto several years ago without the English fluency to understand school lessons and interact socially, Loza said.

"This memory reminds me of the importance of communication and serves as a constant reminder of my plans for success," he said.

Finalist Melvin Santos, an immigrant from El Salvador who is now an eighth-grader at Belle Haven School in Menlo Park, said his mother taught him that "education, not money, is the main foundation to a good life.

"Our community, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and the rest of the Peninsula, is now contaminated with hatred, death -- the total opposite of formal civilization," Santos said.

"Due to this, many of our family members have perished. All due to violence, we have all lost at least one person. This needs to stop."

Santos said the Youth of the Year competition is "the big helping hand that I need."

The Boys & Girls Club runs "Youth of the Year" contests annually for eighth graders and high school students.

To apply, a student must be in good academic standing, participate in the club and have completed at least 40 hours of community service in the past year.

This year's contest drew 13 initial applicants: From East Palo Alto's McNair Academy, they were twins Ahjenea and Ahjenique James, Loza and Paloma Valencia. From Belle Haven, they were Juan Mora-Gomez, Dudley Ryder, Santos and Jocelyn Sandoval; and from Hoover, they were Avellan, Oscar Batres, Kevin Cano, Andrea Fuentes and Jocelyn Prieto.

Judging the speeches were Kris Weems, assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors; Tim Brady, managing partner of Imagine K12; Minh Ngo, president of 100 Women Charitable Foundation; and Tom Friel, former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles and board vice-chair of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula serves more than 3,000 K-12 students in after-school programs at seven venues in East Palo Alto, eastern Menlo Park and Redwood City.

Chris Kenrick

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Like this comment
Posted by John Straubel
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm

These kids from challenged neighborhoods of the Peninsula are "staying after school" because they want to. They choose to keep learning after 3pm, often for another 3 hours of mentoring and healthy companionship.
If anyone doubts the benefits of and extended school day – like most other countries have – they need only ask these Youth of the Year finalists whose families can't afford tutors and special programs.
And ask Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula whose staff, volunteers and donors make the extended day possible in their clubhouses and on school campuses. Their record of high-school graduation success is convincing.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Hill
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

Dudley Ryder is my son and I am so very proud of him and all of the finalist and (of course) the winner of the Youth of the Year 2011. I thank the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula as well as all of the parents and volunteers that helped make this competition happen. This definitely inspired my son to do more, reach higher and BE EXTRORDINARY. Thank you!

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