Five outstanding Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland members have been nominated to become this year’s Youth of the Year for Cleveland.
The winner, who advances to state competition, will be announced at the March 9th Breakfast of Champions at the Broadway Club. The keynote speaker at the breakfast, which also honors major Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland supporters and partners, will be Third Federal Chairman and CEO Marc A. Stefanski. “We are blessed to have such a great group of candidates this year,” BGCC President and CEO Ron Soeder said.
Here are this year’s finalists:
Mercedes Klouda, a four-year member of the Heights Youth Club, is a senior at Cleveland’s John Hay High School, where she takes honors courses and is co-captain of the cheerleading squad. She plans to study education at Bowling Green State University.
For the past nine years, Mercedes has volunteered at the Ebenezer Food Pantry at Fairmount Presbyterian Church, spending thousands of hours serving meals to community members. In 2016, she was part of a church group that went to the Dominican Republic and helped build a church in one of the most poverty-stricken regions of the country. Mercedes says Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland “has had a huge impact on my life, and I will forever be a part of (it).”
Former Heights Youth Club Director Beverly Burgess said Mercedes’ “work ethic, self-esteem and personal resilience traits are inspiring to the Club staff and her peers. When faced with a challenge, she works tirelessly to achieve her goals and sets high expectations for herself.”
A 10-year member of the King Kennedy Club, Danesha McKinney is currently a junior at Jane Addams Business Careers Center, where she is an honor roll student and takes advanced-placement government classes. Danesha is eyeing a career in nursing and plans to go to Ursuline College.
Danesha is a leader in the culinary program at her school and at the King Kennedy Club, where she is secretary of Keystone Club and a participant in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland Career Readiness program. She also participated in a 2016 Cleveland Clinic internship program in which she worked with simulations mannequins and shadowed doctors and nurses. Danesha has also been a Girl Scout leader. Her personal quote is, “The way to get started is to quit talking and start walking!”
King Kennedy Teen Coordinator Chaunise Hill describes Danesha as “an incredibly strong woman who deserves the opportunity to share her story and strength to empower others.”
Nakayla Reynolds, a two-year member of the John Adams Teen Center, is a senior at John Adams High School, where she has participated in tennis, cross country and Chess Club. She is currently an assistant coach/manager for the track team. She also works the concession stand at home basketball games, holds down a job and spends three hours a week tutoring students in the school library.
Nakayla is considering a career as a nurse, doctor or police officer. Her list of possible college destinations includes Kent State University and Mercyhurst University. She says, “I love it here at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland because it really seems like they care about me and want me to succeed.”
“When (Nakayla) has spare time in class, she always goes out of her way to assist those struggling with materials rather than focusing solely on her own achievement,” says teacher Jacob Malone.
Tamara Thomas, who has belonged to our Broadway Club for six years, is a senior at Washington Park Environmental Studies Academy, where she is class secretary, a member of the Student Advisory Committee and has been on the honor roll for three consecutive years. Tamara plans to study at Howard University with a career goal of becoming an international lawyer.
Last year, she had an internship with the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Legal Academy at Case Western Reserve University, where she participated in a mock trial, shadowed lawyers and judges and took law classes. Her volunteer work has included participating in service projects with the Club, founding a community giveaway at Greater United Church of God and Christ and organizing a “Stop the Hate” walk at her school. She says, “The most valuable thing I received at (the Club) was a chance to find myself and figure out who I want to be in life.”
Broadway Teen Coordinator Shanelle Moon refers to Tamara as “a rose that grew from concrete… (with a foundation) so deep that most people would never imagine the hardships she has faced growing up and the challenges she still faces on a daily basis.”
Neallyn Vega, a senior at Lincoln West High School, has been a Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland member since she was 6 years old. She has a 3.2 grade point average at Lincoln West and is doing her Senior Capstone Project on her experiences working with special needs students. One of her teachers, Jill Rumford, says Neallyn “hit the ground running” to complete all the assignments she missed following the birth of her baby girl in 2017. “Nelly is an amazing young lady,” Rumford says.
Neallyn has been accepted into the nursing program at Cuyahoga Community College and is planning a career in that field. “The Club has given me so many different opportunities in my life that have made me who I am today,” she says. “The Club has been a safe haven for me to go to stay away from the violence in our streets. The Club has been a place where I go to keep up with my academics for my future goals.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland provides safe, fun places for kids ages 6-18 after school with programming centered on promoting healthy lifestyles, academic achievement and character development. Each day, about 1,000 kids go to Clubs in Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.