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Yurhitzia Santiago named Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year

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The Youth of the Year recipient receives a $2,000 scholarship and a new laptop computer. Each finalist receives a $500 scholarship.

An audience of several hundred supporters of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley on Thursday listened to four teen club members deliver short but moving speeches about how the club has changed their lives.

At the close of the program, which took place at the Boys & Girls Club on Verano Avenue, Sonoma Valley High School junior Yurhitzia Santiago was named the organization’s 2019 Youth of the Year.

Established in 1947 by the national Boys & Girls Clubs of America organization, Youth of the Year recognizes teen members for service to their local club, community and family – and also looks at academic success, strong moral character, life goals, poise and public speaking ability.

The four Youth of the Year finalists were Sonoma Valley High School junior Jennifer Ramirez, 2018 graduate Ilse Arias, junior Gabe Naal and junior Yurhitzia Santiago.

Santiago’s speech and statement to the YOY judges centered largely on how the Boys & Girls Clubs teen facility, aka the Club, has changed her life.

“When you think of safety and warmth, a couple of things come to mind,” said Santiago. “The warm hugs from your parents, the laughs from your friends as you walk through your school, and your siblings shoulder for you to lean on.”

But, continued Santiago, “safety and warmth for me came from a corner building in Maxwell Village shopping center... which contained laughs, warm hugs and, more importantly, no judgment.”

Santiago said that in the Club, she “found a home away from home” and a place of solace as she attempted to “escape all the things happening at home.”

Santiago said that, while her house was filled with love and that her single mother worked hard to her children, after Santiago’s brother dropped out of high school, her world “turned upside down.”

“He quickly spiraled out of control,” she said, “becoming toxic as he filled his body with poison that took priority over me and my mother.”

Santiago credits the staff and her peers at the Club in Maxwell Village with getting her through this dark time.

“I am reminded that I am a teen every time I come here, that I am supported, and that I am capable of achieving my dreams,” she said.

Santiago is described by BGC staff as an excellent leader who inspires others to work together toward a common goal. She has earned the respect of her peers and club staff and was recently named the president of the Keystone Club. When she is not at the club, she can be found in the community tutoring youth in mathematics and other subjects. She has received honor roll awards at Sonoma valley High and maintains a 3.7 GPA.

Santiago closed her speech by saying that thanks to the Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma Valley, she has decided to pursue a career in the medical field, with hopes of being a pediatric nurse who “can help kids like the Club (and) BGC Sonoma Valley has helped me.”

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

The Youth of the Year recipient receives a $2,000 scholarship and a new laptop computer. Each finalist receives a $500 scholarship.

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