Senior sets example for youths

Students recognized as distinguished volunteers in Boys and Girls Club scholarship program


Zia Kelly

Assisting with an art project, senior Grace Barr volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club at Schwegler Elementary every day after school.

By Kate Rettig

Senior Grace Barr stood holding back tears on the podium at the Lawrence Arts Center stage.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to cry,” Barr said to the crowd of cheering people as she accepted the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year award on Feb. 4.

The Youth of the Year program honors teens affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club who have provided a positive example for the kids in the program. Each local club selects a winner to compete in state competitions. State winners can move on to regional and national level competitions to receive up to $50,000 in scholarships.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Barr said. “It was a great feeling knowing that I had all this support from people from school, Boys and Girls Club, my mom and my family.”

Holding the signs StuCo made them, senior Youth of the Year candidates Christian Espinosa and Grace Barr took the limo in the background to the Lawrence Arts Center to prepare for the competition.
Photo by Cooper Avery
Holding the signs StuCo made them, senior Youth of the Year candidates Christian Espinosa and Grace Barr took the limo in the background to the Lawrence Arts Center to prepare for the competition.

Seniors Breanna Bell, Christian Espinosa and Jazmen Fowler were also among the six candidates who competed for this award.

As a winner, Barr received two $1,000 scholarships, and she will move on to the state competition this month.

“Grace is an excellent representative of the club, and she is a living example of how the club has had really positive impact on her life,” Boys and Girls Club board directors member and English teacher Keri Lauxman said. “Her speech that night was very personal. It talked about her story and how her involvement with the after school program and program directors have fostered her confidence and her success that she has achieved as a young woman. She is a really great representative of what those programs can foster in young people.”

Faced with the challenge of a having a parent who struggled with addiction, Barr said she received support in Boys and Girls Club.

“My mom was addicted to meth and I didn’t find that out until freshman year,” Barr said. “So I was angry all the time and I was mad at everyone. Then I joined Boys and Girls Club as a group leader and just being around the kids. They’re always happy. It’s just a great environment to be around. Then my mom overcoming her addiction also helped. It’s just made me into a more positive person, and it opened my eyes to world and what really goes on.”

Barr hopes to attend Baker University or Kansas State and major in vocal music education and early childhood education.

“I want to have my master’s degree, and I want to be working in some type of school or educational place,” Barr said. “I also want to own my home because my mom never owned a house, so that’s one of my biggest goals.”

In November, the candidates submitted packets of three essays, including reference letters and community service. The candidates also personally interviewed with a panel of judges before they were selected to speak at the ceremony.

“I was kind of nervous because I knew some of the people who had ran for Youth of the Year before, and I knew it was a very tedious project,” Bell said. “She [Bell’s program manager] asked me and I was very honored that she selected me, but trying to figure out if I wanted to do it or not. I saw how happy everyone was going it together and being around all of the great coaches, I was like ‘Let’s do it. The work should go easy.’ ”

Students involved in Boys and Girls Club can be nominated or submit an application to participate in the annual event.

The state Boys and Girls Club competition is taking place in Topeka on March 9. Barr will be giving a speech for the larger prize.

In each of the candidate’s speeches, they talked about how Boys and Girls Club had impacted their lives and helped them overcome challenges.

“Just being at the Boys and Girls Club, I’ve gained self confidence,” Bell said. “Growing up that was the one thing I struggled with. School wasn’t always easy for me, so sometimes I doubted myself. Once I joined Boys and Girls Club, I saw other kids have single-parent households and seeing some of the challenges they went though. I was able to step into their shoes and help them overcome that.”

Each of the candidates brought their own personality and story to the podium and had the experience to take with them.

“It was really cool for me [to be nominated],” Espinosa said.

“I’ve had friends that participated in this. It was really special for me to be a part of it this year.”