Once a year, a leading teen earns Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago’s (BGCC) highest praise, the Youth of the Year (YOY) Award. The prestigious honor is a tribute to outstanding leadership, service, and academic excellence. Joshua H., 17-year-old member of the Louis L. Valentine Club in Bridgeport, took the title for this year’s Youth of the Year.
The competition begins months in advance, with clubs across the city nominating exceptional young leaders. Simulating the run for office, finalists spend months leading up to the award preparing and positioning themselves in the best possible light: writing essays, preparing speeches, collaborating on projects, and honing their presentation skills.
The six finalists — Joshua H. of the Valentine Club, James C. of the Pedersen-McCormick Club, Estrella B. of CC’s Little Village Club, Liannah F. of the Linda & Bill Gantz Club, Jocelynn J. of the True Value Club, and Anthony B. of the Jordan Club — were all recognized as influencers in their communities. Each member gave a speech, offering the 1,000 guests a peak into their lives.
All finalists received a laptop computer courtesy of CDW, four Chicago White Sox tickets courtesy of the Sox, and $1,000 in educational support. The winner, Joshua, received an additional gift of two round trip tickets courtesy of United Airlines.
Early in Joshua’s life, his father became ill. He quickly took on the role of caregiver, along with the adult responsibilities and pressures. Joshua found poetry as his therapeutic outlet. Understanding the direct impact it had on his life, Joshua continues to be a light for other kids, helping peers find their voice and feel heard.
Joshua participates in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago’s Passport to Manhood program, which he says helped shape his view of manhood today. He plans to continue this work and help change the stigma surrounding masculinity and emotional expression.
Joshua will advance onto the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Illinois State competition with the hopes of moving onto the regional and national competitions.
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Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.