YOY Finalist 2017 - Jaylen



Return to Youth of the Year
Before I joined the Teen Center, I was just an average kid trying to fit in with my friends. I was not a troublemaker; I just didn’t have my head screwed on straight. I had a tendency to hang out with the wrong crowd. I hung with people who engaged in illegal activities like smoking and drinking. I didn’t engage in those activities, but I didn’t mind watching. I think a lot changed once I saw my closest friends start to drift off, either to juvenile detention centers or graveyards. 

I couldn’t blame them for their doings. They gradually became a product of the environment and the spitting image of their community. Once these events started taking place, that’s when I knew I had to make a change. The route that I was taking … I didn’t want to take that road anymore. That wasn’t the life I wanted for myself. So, I decided to refocus myself.

In the summer of 2014, my journey began as a member at the Joel E. Smilow Teen Center. I was there every day from opening to close, hanging out with my friends and having fun. I was not utilizing the full potential of the Teen Center. I tended to play basketball more than I used other facilities. I asked myself, “What is the purpose of playing basketball with failing grades?” 

I realized that 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 College and Career Readiness Center at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor, I am now a member of the honor roll and ranked in the top 10 of my class.

Now, let me bring you back to today. Recently, I encountered a new obstacle when I moved from Benton Harbor High School to Countryside Academy. The reason I left was because I felt as though Benton Harbor High School was lacking some of the tools that I needed to succeed such as a geometry teacher and a Spanish teacher. Those are two subjects that I was struggling with. Once I made the transition over to Countryside, I could no longer coast and just get by. I had to change my study habits, my sleep patterns, and my whole thought process. But, like Mr. John says, “Without risk, there is no reward.” I know that making the change to Countryside will pay dividends for my future. Although I am attending Countryside Academy, my heart still resides at Benton Harbor High School. 

The College and Career Readiness Center is where I spend most of my time now, with helpful tutors provided by the Club. The Center allows a peaceful environment 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 vision that I would love to implement throughout the urban cities. I believe every city should have a guidance program for youth in their city. So many youth don’t have parents to guide them and are lacking the necessary tools to succeed.

This idea came from the first time I met Mr. Jeffrey Booker. He is not just a staff member at the Club, but he is a mentor to me. I consider him my guardian angel. I say this because he has been with me every step of the way, even though Upward Bound. 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 myself. 

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 idea that he is on his own personal journey of maturity and growth. I believe that this is a key solution to the challenging part of my vision. This is why that, as Youth of the Year, I would work hard for programs like this, not only in this city, but in every city. 

I am 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 achieve my goals. Becoming Youth of the Year would help me because it would give me the opportunity to meet new and incredible people who were once my age and did the things I would love to do. It would give me the opportunity to show everyone how dedicated I am, how helpful I am, and how funny I am. 

I realize now that Youth of the Year is part of my purpose and it would help me to unlock the door to a bigger and better future. And, remember always that ambition is part of you, it’s something that is in your veins. 
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