Fifty-one students in grades 8, 11 and 12 from throughout Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Redwood City participated in the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula "Youth of the Year" competition.
Of those students, Hoover Elementary School eighth-grader Lindsey Pulido and Menlo-Atherton High School senior Olivia Luna were named "Youths of the Year" at events held Feb. 17 and 25, when the leading participants gave speeches to a panel of judges.
Participating students performed 40 hours of community service, wrote essays, gather letters of recommendation and prepared and delivered speeches to a large audience and a panel of judges.
Each student will receive $1,000 in scholarship funds for her achievements. Olivia will represent the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula in regional, and possibly state and national, Youth of the Year scholarship competitions.
Scholarships of $250 was given to finalists at each of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula's locations. The top representative from each location received $500.
The real value of the Youth of the Year program is the process, said Sean Mendy, senior development director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.
Participating students write essays, think about what they want to be or do, and develop public speaking skills. The program is designed to parallel the high school exploration process for eighth-graders and the college-application process for high school students, he said.
Community leaders, including local business executives, volunteer their time to serve as mentors, interviewers and judges. Among the mentors this year were people from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Palo Alto law firm Baker Botts, and LinkedIn.
Judges review the finalists' essays and letters of recommendation and meet with each student for one-on-one interviews.
"It's good for a 17-year-old to be interviewed by a CEO of a company," Mr. Mendy said, explaining that it helps students gain confidence and poise.
The teens who participate, he said, have often experienced personal hardship. The Youth of the Year program offers validation from the community, helping kids to "learn how important their stories" are, he said. In doing so, they learn to "see (those stories) as a source of strength" and convert "tragedy into triumph," he said.
Olivia Luna, the senior at M-A who was named Youth of the Year, referred in her speech to the opportunities she had at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. "Not only has Boys & Girls Club supported my personal growth, but it's given me an outlet for contributing to my community," she said. "Being part of the Boys & Girls Club has helped me to grow as a person and to realize what I want to do for my community help youth."
The judges of the high school event were Scott Forstall, Shellye Archambeau, Tim Campos, Dr. Milt McColl, and BGCP alumnus Davante Adams. Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, was the keynote speaker.
Five eighth-graders gave speeches against the backdrop of blue life-size block letters on stage spelling out "BE GREAT" at the clubhouse in East Palo Alto on Feb. 17.
The other eighth-grade Youth of the Year finalists were Alan Godinez, Cielo Contreras, Markhi Simon and Yaritza Rodriguez.
In an interview with the Almanac, Lindsey said she had fun working on community service projects, such as helping at a bamboo habitat in the Oakland Zoo and cleaning up the beach at Half Moon Bay. She said she hopes to become a middle-school counselor.
The selection process started with 23 eighth-graders who participate in clubhouse programs, said Peter Fortenbaugh, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. Those students wrote essays, did 40 hours of community service and prepared speeches.
The event was judged by Brian Rumao, John Keene, Margo Georgiadis, Marci McCue, Matt Mahan and Peter Francis.