KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Next week, a group of exceptional young leaders and go-getters will gather in Jefferson City -- each on a potential course that could take them to the White House to receive personal praise from President Obama. They'll be vying for Missouri Youth of the Year honors in the Boys and Girls Clubs and hoping to move on to regional and national competition. This week's Fox 4 Young Achiever is one of them.
After school. Nights. Volunteering. Recreation. Studying. Leading. Mentoring. This is where you'll find Sam Smith, the J&D Wagner unit of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. Sam says the club is a second home for him.
"I know I have other people to lean on," says Sam. "I have other people to encourage me. No one ever puts me down here. I've learned to be a leader. I've grown to be a leader. Not a follower anymore."
Sam found his way here several years ago from the challenges of family life without a father and the dangers of a rough neighborhood in east Kansas City. He says the club saved his life.
"I've overcame drugs," says Sam. "I've overcame gangs. I've overcame being bullied."
Sam has stepped up and forward to become so respected and admired here that he is the Youth of the Year for 2013 among all the children and teenagers involved in Boys and Girls Clubs in the Kansas City metro area.
"He's an awesome representative," says Jamia Dock, the J&D Wagner Unit director. "And I love the fact that he doesn't make excuses. I love that he will never be a quitter." Youth of the Year is the Boys and Girls Clubs' highest member honor. It recognizes Sam not only for his strong club leadership and involvement but also his achievements outside the clubs -- in family, community and school.
"This is a win for Sam," says Dock. "This is a win for this community. This is a win to rebuild hope. This is a win for his peers, his high school. And it goes on and on and on and on and on."
Sam has found another home, too, in the kitchen. A junior at Northeast High School, he discovered the Culinary Arts program at Kansas City Public Schools' Manual Career Technical Center.
'I feel like culinary arts changed me, also," says Sam. "Kind of without culinary arts, I don't think I would be Youth of the Year."
Sam's focused on improving his kitchen skills and food knowledge every day. His goal is to become a master chef -- owning and operating his own restaurant.
"When we're in the kitchen working, he's one of the last people to leave," says Chef Dennis Charest, instructor and director of the Culinary Arts program at Manual Career Technical Center. "He's in here making sure everything is done. 'Chef, is this done? Is that done?' So he's consistently making sure that we get done everyday."
Back at the club, Sam eagerly guides his peers and younger members in what he's learned about goal-setting and shares his drive for positive success. He takes the role model responsibilities of being Youth of the Year very seriously -- to people in the clubs and those outside.
"When they see me now," says Sam, "they see a young man that's going to become something better. That's going to be great. That makes me want to do better. That makes me want to be better." And finding home.
Sam is just the second young man ever to win Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City Youth of the Year honors. Last year's winner, Akimmy Wheeler, went on to become Missouri Youth of the Year and got a $1,000 dollar college scholarship. No local Youth of the Year has ever become the national honoree.
Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.