Good evening. My name is Jaylen and I am a candidate for youth of the year. It feels just like yesterday I was begging my mom to sign me up for the Boys & Girls Club’s Teen Center. Before I joined the Teen Center, I was an average kid just trying to fit in with my friends. I wasn't a troublemaker; I just didn't have my head screwed on straight. I had a tendency of hanging with the wrong crowd. I hung with people who engaged in illegal activities such as drinking, smoking and fighting. I never was the kid to participate in those activities, but I sure didn't mind watching.
I think a lot changed once I saw my closest friends start to drift off, to either juvenile detention centers or the graveyard. That is when I realized this was not the route I wanted to take. That wasn't the life I wanted to live, so I decided to refocus my life. The summer of 2014, my journey began as a member of the Joel E. Smilow Teen Center.
I was there every day from opening to closing, hanging out and having fun. I was not utilizing the full potential of the Teen Center and I realize now that it’s because I was so caught up in playing basketball. I asked myself, “What is the purpose of playing basketball with failing grades?” I realized I was slacking in school when I received my first D. I knew then that it was time to apply myself. Through hard work and preparation from the Club’s College and Career Readiness Center, I am now on the honor roll and ranked in the top ten of my class. The College and Career Readiness Center is where I spend most of my time, with helpful tutors provided by the Club. The center has a peaceful environment that allows me to study free from interruptions.
Like Mr. Booker always says, “Being uncomfortable leads to growth.” The staff pushing me outside of my comfort zone changed my life. It also gave me a new vision that I would like to implement in other urban cities. In addition; I believe every city should have a guidance program for the youth and community. Most kids don’t have the parental guidance at home so they are lacking the necessary tools to succeed.
This idea came from the first time I met Mr. Jeffrey Booker. He is not only a staff member at the Club, he's also a mentor to me. I look at him as a guardian angel. I say this because he’s been with me every step of the way—from Upward Bound until now. Mr. Booker motivates me and pushes me to be better than I was yesterday. We need more influential people like him to help mold young men like me. The teen center provided me with significant programs such as Passport to Manhood. Each male club member participant receives his own “passport” to underscore the notion that he is on a personal journey of maturation and growth. I believe this is the key solution to the challenging part of my Vision. That's why as Youth of the Year, I will work hard for programs like this—not only in this city but every city in need. I'm living proof that change is possible with the proper guidance from mentors and role models.
The Boys & Girls Clubs helped me discover my purpose and helped me achieve my goals. Becoming Youth of the Year will help me because it will give me the opportunity to meet new and incredible people that were once my age and actually did what I dreamed to do. It will give me that opportunity to show everyone how dedicated I am, how helpful I am, and how funny I am. I realize now Youth of the Year is part of my purpose and it will help me unlock the door to a bigger and better future.