By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER
Fourteen young adults from across Connecticut gathered at the Boys and Girls Club of Bristol Family Center on Wednesday, April 4, to compete in the state Youth of the Year competition.
Don Maleto, executive director of the Connecticut Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs, explained that the two day event began with the contestants staying at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bristol and participating in bonding activities. Maleto said there are 16 BGC organizations across the state.
“This is a program of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, it’s our premier recognition program, so these are our top members who’ve been selected by their local Clubs, come together for the statewide effort, and out of this we’re going to select one Youth of the Year, who’s going to go on to the Northeast Regional competition, and then six will be selected nationally to represent the region,” said Maleto, “And they’ll meet the president and they’ll go to D.C., and they’ll get great scholarships, and it’s a fantastic way for us to recognize the great work our kids are doing.”
Daneirys Rivera, a junior at EC Goodwin Technical High School in New Britain, was named as the Youth of the Year for the Bristol BGC. She said that being the Bristol representative has been a great experience.
“These past few days, for the states [competition], I’ve been grateful to learn about other people, and make new friends, and I’m happy to be here,” said Rivera.
Rivera said that the interview process was nerve wracking, but a great accomplishment for her “to be able to tell four people” she didn’t know about who she is and who she wants to become.
“They’re talking about their club experience; the impact the club has had on them, a lot of times kids have overcome certain challenges in their life and they’re doing really well and they’re role models for other club members and, actually, for all of us,” explained Maleto.
“Judges are looking for the best person who can represent Connecticut Boys and Girls Clubs,” said Nicole Stere, teen director at the Bristol BGC, and Rivera’s mentor. “Daneirys is a 10-year club member, so she’s kind of been preparing for this for 10 years honestly. And then, over the past couple months we’ve worked with her, myself, and other staff members, to practice with her.”
Jeff Goncalves is a mentor with the BGC of Ridgefield, and said he and his mentee have been preparing all year, by revising speeches and essays, and practicing for the interview.
Chris Cozens is a senior in high school and is representing the BGC of Ridgefield. Cozens started going to the club when he was 6-years-old, but took time off in middle school.
“That was kind of like an absence to me. When I came back for my high school career, that’s when everything started to change and I started to realize how much the club meant, how much it impacted my peers, my own siblings, my own family, and that’s kind of what pushed me to stay there, and really gave me the opportunities in order to be a leader and in order to be in the place where I am today, so I couldn’t be more thankful about the club,” said Cozen. “It’s amazing how everyone is the same here; we’re all Youth of the Year candidates, you know, we all have a common goal, even though we’re all from different cities, we all act the same, we’re all leaders here and that’s what makes this thing so great.
The other competitors were Victoria Reno, Domenica Echeverria, Zachary Bertrand, Kelcey Perez, Ananda Perno, Kaycia Narine, Tyrese Gallant, Shyann Taylor, Miguel Ramirez, Kah’ron Connor, Chanel Francis, and Ashariel Velasquez.
Domenica Echeverria was named as the 2018 Connecticut Youth of the Year and will go on to compete in the regional competition, to be held in New York City this June.