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After sharing a personal reflection on what the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club has taught her about volunteerism and self-respect, a Vanden High School sophomore was chosen as the club’s Youth of the Year.
Gracie Nance, 15, assumed her duties Friday as the club’s spokesperson.
Judges considered four candidates’ written essays, individual interviews and speeches that described their personal success due to attending and volunteering with the club, before selecting Nance for the honor Thursday night.
“I wanted to do big things with it,” Nance told The Reporter after she was selected.
She regularly volunteers through the Boys and Girls Club.
“I feel like through the volunteering I’ve done, it’s really opened my eyes,” Nance said.
During her speech, she described seeing homeless people eating a good meal and young children experiencing Christmas for the first time.
She learned to love herself as well.
Before coming to the club, she had never stepped out of her comfort zone
“My confidence has skyrocketed since attending,” she said.
The teens at the Boys and Girls Club form close friendships, and she became “confident” and “broad-minded.”
“Having a family means more than just blood,” she said.
Nance wants to become a criminal psychologist.
Members of the club’s board of directors, club kids and staff, and Police Chief John Carli were among those who gathered to listen to Nance’s speech and those of Kimani McGee, 16, Sergio Marciel, 14, and Luisa Aragon, 15.
Each local Boys and Girls Club selects a Youth of the Year, said Anna Eaton, executive director of the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club.
“They go through this competition and they send forth one of their best,” Eaton said.
Local Youths of the Year go on to compete for the state Youth of the Year title, and then on to a regional competition.
Finally, each region sends their youth to the national competition in September at the White House.
The National Youth of the Year becomes the spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Club, gives speeches across the country, and receives a scholarship of $25,000, renewable up to $100,000 for four years.  “It just opens doors for you guys,” Eaton said.
McGee, of Vacaville High School, reflected on his six years with the Boys and Girls Club during his speech.
He said he tried things he never had before, and began to think about what he could become, and who he could be today.
“I believe teens should be more serious about life,” McGee said.
Many teens engage in drugs, underage sex, bullying and being irresponsible in their relationships in order to be popular, he noted.
Gaining followers on social media is another concern for teens.
Unfortunately, some get so wrapped up in being popular that they feel suicide is the only option, McGee said.
He reminded his fellow teens to stay true to themselves, and that the Boys and Girls Club teaches them that.
“We are all made to be different,” he said.
Marciel, of Will C. Wood High School, said the club helped him develop confidence and social skills.
He said he used to think he could never disagree with others.
“I was a slave to the ones who were all like me,” he said.
But when he came to the club, everyone was open-minded, and he described a staff member asking him what activity they should plan for the younger club members.
“I was surprised that someone wanted to hear what I had to say,” Marciel said. “The feeling of someone taking advice from me was amazing. … The youngest members looked up to me, the older members gave me their hands and hearts.”
Everyone has the capacity to become a leader, he said, and a leader’s concern should not be gaining more followers.
“A great leader does not create followers,” he said. “He or she creates more great leaders.”
Aragon, another Vacaville High student, described her experiences as a first-generation Mexican American during her speech.
“On the first day of school, I thought it would be a fun experience,” she said.
But the other children bullied her for not knowing much English, and she had a hard time meeting new friends.
In fourth grade, she started coming to the Boys and Girls Club, and initially was hesitant, but that changed.
“If I stopped coming, my grades would not have started to improve,” Aragon said.
Her volunteer work was among the highlights of her experience, including the McBride Senior Center Dance, fishing derby, Coastal Cleanup Week and serving food to homeless people.
“The club to me is like a second home,” she said.
Aragon would like to become a role model for immigrants.
“Just because you’re not born here, doesn’t mean you can’t be a success,” she said.  Vacaville’s Youth of the Year 2015 Brienna Eaton said the Boys and Girls Club helped her discover that her voice has value.
In her year as the club’s youth spokesperson, she has spoken before Vacaville City Council on issues related to e-cigarettes and vaping and been a featured speaker at a donor event.
She encouraged her successor to “put yourself out there.”
“It can be so inspirational,” she said.

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