This year’s ambassador for the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club has been chosen.
Sergio Maciel, 15, a sophomore at Will C. Wood High School, will serve as the 2017 Youth of the Year for the Club. He will go on to compete in the Northern California Youth of the Year competition.
“I’m really going to do my best to represent the Boys and Girls Club as well as the youth of Vacaville,” Maciel said at the podium in the Vacaville City Hall council chamber Thursday.
He received a $500 scholarship from Wendy Nichols, a teacher and one of the judges of this year’s competition.
During his speech, Maciel said he has met people from many different backgrounds through the Club, learning “how important unlike minds are.”
“The Boys and Girls Club has shown me how unique our community is,” he said.
Maciel is the president of the local Keystone Club, the teen program of the Boys and Girls Club. He has been a Club member for five years.
“I truly wish I became a member at a younger age,” he said.
Maciel, who also competed for Youth of the Year last year, is interested in studying computer science when he goes to college.
Three other teens were in the running this year.
AnaKaren Zanabria, 18, a senior at Vacaville High School, spoke to how the Club was supportive of her after her grandmother left to Mexico.
“Without the Club, I wouldn’t have the friends I have made over the years,” she said.
She has helped organize Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas toy drives and National Night Out with the Club, and competed for 2015 Youth of the Year.
Zanabria has also been part of the REACH and AWARE Coalitions, and worked on the paving project for the Rocky Hill Trail.
Nayeli Quero Cano, 15, a sophomore at Vaca High, told the story of how her parents had to recover after a thief stole a significant amount of money from her mother’s car.
“My parents struggled very much to make that money up,” she said.
She remembers living in a garage at one point, and her younger sister was bullied.
Through the Club, she said she was able to achieve her dreams, including leading the DramaMatters After-School Program.
“I want to explain what happens when you don’t do things right, like taking your education seriously,” she said.
Jacqueline Holbert, 18, shared her struggles growing up in an adoptive family and with a reading and writing disability.
Now a senior at Buckingham Charter Magnet High School, Holbert looks to complete her education up to the doctorate level and become an executive of a Boys and Girls Club.
She has been Keystone president and started her own social awareness club.
“If it wasn’t for the Boys and Girls Club, this little girl wouldn’t have grown up to become a beautiful African American,” she said.
Holbert was selected as 2014 Youth of the Year with David Quintero.
Although Youth of the Year is a competition, Anna Eaton, the club’s executive director, said all four of this year’s candidates have supported each other and worked on their speeches together.
The 2016 Youth of the Year, Gracie Nance, 16, has raised the bar for this competition, Eaton said.
It has been a year of reflection and accomplishments, Nance acknowledged.
“The past is the past for a reason, and you have to work hard for it to mean something,” she told her four potential successors.
Clarence Williams, another of this year’s judges, said it was clear all of them have already overcome so much.
“But there will be doors that will be closed,” he said. “There will be people who judge, but you should never stop dreaming.”
Police Chief John Carli, another judge, said all four teens are engaged in service, care about others and have bright futures.
“There are no losers on this stage today,” he said.
“It was obvious you guys are leaders,” judge Michelle Strand said. “That’s caught the attention of the community.”
Youth of the Year has been a program of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America since 1947. The Vacaville Club has participated since 2003.
The Club also held its first Junior Youth of the Year competition Thursday to prepare Vacaville middle school students for the high school competition.
Sarai Quero Cano, 13, an eighth grade student at Willis Jepson Middle School, was selected as Vacaville’s first Junior Youth of the Year.
In her speech, Quero Cano spoke about being bullied in fifth grade. The Club has brought someone in to talk about bullying and what to do in those situations, she said.
For two years, she has been vice president of the local Torch Club, which helped donate to children with disabilities so they could have playground equipment.
Abigail Arteaga and Dayana Silva, both 12 and Jepson students, also competed for Junior Youth of the Year.
“It gave me confidence to speak in front of an audience,” Arteaga said of the Torch Club.
Silva, who wants to become a doctor, said she has improved her grades, given many speeches and helped organize field trips during her three years at the Club’s Acacia Center.
“I became better at things I couldn’t do,” she said.