KANSAS CITY, MO - An Independence teen has been named 2018 Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City.
On Thursday night, Vanesa Rodriguez earned this year's title after speaking in front of a panel of judges and an audience filled with community members and peers.
“I was surprised because the candidates are really good," Rodriguez said. "I did not think that I was going to be a finalist, but I'm just real excited that I got the opportunity."
Rodriguez shared her story of coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of 10 and overcoming challenging circumstances and the language barrier.
The Youth of The Year award is chosen by a panel of judges based on their speech, interview and contributions to family, school, the community and the clubs.
“This title, this opportunity will open lots of doors for them," said Kelley Barnes, director of college and career programs for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. "They'll meet some pretty phenomenal people through this experience. They'll get the scholarships that are attached to this. They'll get to travel and just meet new kids from around the world."
Barnes said she hopes other teens see this an realize the Boys & Girls Clubs aren’t just for younger kids. They have programs for all ages, which can really be beneficial to helping shape the lives of youth in the community.
“We have arts programs here and college and career programs here and different things that they can come and find their area of interest, and it really, truly opens doors and opportunities that they couldn't probably have imagined,” Barnes said.
Along with the Youth of the Year title, Vanessa wins a $1,000 college scholarship and the chance to compete against other Boys & Girls Club members across Missouri for the state title. State winners move on to vie for the distinction of one of five regional winners across the country, and ultimately those five winners will contend for the National Youth of the Year title.
Five other young people -- Lau'Nell S. from the Wagner unit, KeiMonie M. from the Hawthorne unit, Xavier C. from the Wyandotte County unit, Dariauna J. from the Thornberry unit and Courtney T. from the Olathe unit -- were named as finalists for the KC area's Youth of the Year award.