Boys & Girls Club names Francisco Chavez ‘Youth of the Year’

Friends, family and the community at large turned out in force Thursday night to honor the Boys & Girls Club’s four Youth of the Year nominees and to hear Sonoma High School senior Francisco Chavez named as the 2013 recipient.

The Youth of the Year is selected based on service to the club and community, academic success, strong moral character, life goals and poise and public speaking ability. This year’s four panel judges were John Gurney, Pam Hamel, Matt Simi and Vanessa Rognlien.

The four nominees – Sonoma High seniors Chavez, Itzel Macedonio Santiago and Carmelita Bastress and junior Marlen Rojas – gave moving and introspective speeches at the event. They spoke of specific ways that the staff and the programs of the Boys & Girls Club have changed their lives.

Said CEO David Pier, “We have watched these boys and girls transform over the years from our after-school homework club through camps and classes to our College Bound and Career Launch programs. We have had front row seats witnessing and participating in their journey. We could not be more proud of all four of our nominees or more optimistic about their future.”

In his speech, the 17-year-old Chavez credited the club with helping him walk away from bad habits and a bad attitude toward a future that he is now willing to work hard to achieve.

He started his speech by looking back to the day he was expelled from middle school for brandishing a knife. “Back then, I got into trouble all the time with the principal. I would disrespect teachers and get into arguments with other students. I put my mom and close relatives through so much – court hearings, house arrest, probation and community service.”

Chavez left Adele Harrison Middle School and attended the district’s now-closed Gateway School alongside other students who had been expelled from school. But Chavez believed deep down that he was different.

“The other kids didn’t care about school. Most of them would show up late, throw books at the teacher and disrespect him. I was not that kind of person. I wanted to get out of Gateway as fast as possible,” he said.

Chavez turned a corner. He met weekly with his counselors for long talks about his future. In his freshman year at Sonoma Valley High School, he joined the club’s College Bound program and he credits the staff with helping him stay on track and develop a plan for his future. The highlight of this time was being chosen to represent the club at the bi-annual Intel Computer Clubhouse technology and leadership Teen Summit in Boston.

Chavez has three younger siblings and he will be the first in his family to graduate high school and go on to college. “Throughout life, it was only my mom taking care of us. My dad was deported when I was 2 years old. He was not in my life to see me grow up into a young adult. I held in all this anger about my dad’s absence.”

The role models at the Boys & Girls Club filled a void. “The club has helped me in so many ways. It keeps me out of trouble and away from the wrong group of people. The College Bound program motivated me to improve my grades. Last year, I got my first 3.0 GPA, which had been one of my goals, and it felt great to reach it.”

This year, Chavez is taking honors civics/honors economics and advanced biology. “The staff at the club had confidence in me and knew I could pass these courses. They helped me to overcome my disrespectful and rude behavior, as well as my bad school and study habits,” he said.

Chavez has a busy senior year schedule. He works at Sonoma Cinemas and tutors younger students at the club and at Prestwood Elementary School. He enjoys the child development classes at the high school and is headed to junior college next year to study to become a probation officer with the goal of one day helping troubled teens, like himself, to find a path toward a brighter future.

Previous recipients of the Sonoma Boys & Girls Club competition were Yencenia Vargas in 2012, Gene Truong in 2011, Jessica Contreras in 2010 and Manuel Herredia-Santoyo in 2009. As the 2013 recipient, in March, Chavez will head 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. The four Youth of the Year nominees received a $1,000 scholarship toward continued education, and Chavez will receive a Mac laptop computer.