Vargas named B&G Clubs ‘Youth of the Year’
SONOMA VALLEY HIGH junior Yecenia Vargas was named “Youth of the Year” by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley.
There was not a dry eye in the house last Thursday night when four Sonoma students were honored at the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year celebration and Sonoma Valley High School junior, Yecenia Vargas, was selected as the 2012 recipient.
The Youth of the Year, selected by a panel of five judges, is the Boys & Girls Club member who best embodies service, character and leadership and who seeks to better their club, their community and themselves.
In her speech, Vargas described the role that the Club has played in her journey from an angry and depressed middle schooler who was unable to read, to a confident, albeit teary, young woman who moved the crowd with the eloquent story of her 16 years.
The 2012 panel judges were Sonoma City Council member Tom Rouse, Adam Boucher, Dana Freudenberger, Elsa Nelson and Cyndi Frank.
The four nominees were Vargas, SVHS senior Raquel Paz, SVHS senior Pio Valenzula and Napa College freshman Eric Gonzalez. Each received a $600 college scholarship and Vargas will also receive a Mac laptop computer.
Each nominee read a personal essay about their experiences at the Boys & Girls Club and how it has changed their lives for the better.
Vargas has been going to the Boys & Girls Club since first grade. Her parents were divorcing and her mother become overwhelmed with the responsibility of having to care for her children on her own. Vargas’ father has been largely absent since that time and, she explained through tears, “I’ve had to accept that he does not have faith in me to succeed, which pushes me to wake up each day to work hard to prove him wrong.”
As her mother struggled with depression, Vargas said, she stepped forward to help care for her younger brother, causing her to grow up quickly and become motivated to change things for her family.
Quiet and unassuming, Vargas felt lost and invisible in middle school and was unable to imagine finishing high school. She was depressed and deeply troubled by her inability to read. While most children learn to read in first or second grade, it wasn’t until seventh grade that Vargas could read fluently. She learned in middle school that she has dyslexia. “My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my mom in future years because of my dyslexia. My future was on the line for me.”
Vargas said her mentor, Catherine Jones, played reading games with Vargas for hours on end. Sonoma Valley High School English teacher Parry McVeigh helped Vargas to fall in love with reading by steering her toward the right books. The journey from being unable to read to becoming an avid reader led Vargas to believe that she could overcome any obstacle, large or small.
The Boys & Girls Club provided a safe place for her and a peephole to her future. “Because my mom doesn’t speak English, she wasn’t able to help me with school work. The staff at the club helped me with homework.
The College Bound program opened doors and opportunities for me to visit college campuses. As the teen representative for the Club, I have met so many adults who love and support the club as much as I do. They see us, they hear us, and they help us when many people just wouldn’t be interested or concerned.”
In high school, Vargas discovered how much she loves working with the Club’s younger kids. “Volunteering in the discovery room taught me to be patient while taking care of others,” Vargas said. “Joining College Bound and meeting (College Bound director) Robin (Eurgubian) has been a blessing. She has pushed me to do things that I never thought I could do. She motivated me to aim higher and offered me the chance to go try things I didn’t ever think I would get the chance to experience. These opportunities have given me a brighter sense of my future. Both Nick (Haley, Teen Services director) and Robin have seen things in us teens many adults wouldn’t give a second look at.”
Vargas said her bright future would not have seemed possible to her a few years ago. “If someone had told me in sixth grade that I would be reading and planning a future for myself, I would have laughed at them,” she said. But learning felt like a miracle to her and it has enabled Vargas to dream big. Her goal after high school is to go to junior college for two years and then transfer to a four-year college and then to law school. Vargas hopes to open her own law practice one day, with a focus on children who have dealt with abusive parents. “I want to make it a place where children can come and talk to people who can help and also a place where I can fight for their rights.”
Jones said of Vargas, “From the first day I met her eight years ago, I was struck by her enormous heart and spirit … and her willingness to work hard for her goals.”
To much applause, Vargas concluded, “Thanks to some great teachers, my mentor and to the Boys & Girls Club, I have learned that it is okay to ask for help and that if you persevere you can make it through anything life throws at you.”
Boys & Girls Club executive director Dave Pier applauded the nominees, stating, “These young men and women have gotten a great deal out of their time with the club and given us a great deal back. I am so moved because I have witnessed firsthand their journeys toward adulthood. Hearing what an important role that our Boys & Girls Club and staff played in their growth and transformation gives us great satisfaction and joy. We are honored to recognize their accomplishments and to be sending Yecenia Vargas on to compete at the regional level for Youth of the Year.”
Previous recipients of the Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Club competition were Gene Truong in 2011, Jessica Contreras in 2010 and Manuel Herredia-Santoyo in 2009. As the 2012 recipient, Vargas will head in March to the northern California regionals for the next level of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year competition. Also honored Thursday night were Member’s of the Year, chosen from each satellite Boys and Girls Club location. They are: Ryan Valer – Dunbar Extension; Shauna Johnston – Flowery Extension; Luis Gonzalez – Sassarini Extension; Luisa Lopez – Altimira Extension; and Nicole Flores – Maxwell Clubhouse School Age.