In The News

What Does it Take to be Youth of the Year?

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On Feb. 13, 2014, more than 175 attendees, including the Boys & Girls Club of America National President and CEO, Jim Clark, filled the Broadmoor’s Lake Terrace Dining Room for the Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region’s annual Youth of the Year competition.

Ashley O’Donnell and Clayton Starnes, the 2014 Youth of the Year nominees, joined Sami Diab, the pre-Youth of the Year candidate, to take the the stage for an evening of touching and dynamic speeches.

The competition was stiff. But, after much consideration, Ashley O’Donnell was announced as the 2014 Youth of the Year Award winner. It was Ashley’s incredible ability to overcome hardship and her dedication to building a brighter future that made her truly stand out.

What, exactly, made Ashley shine amongst her peers? Read on to hear her remarkable story:

Ashley encountered great strife in her young life - she was exposed to domestic violence, divorce, and the successive deaths of her father, uncle, and grandmother. Sadly, Ashley’s mother has been in and out of trouble with the law. She was recently arrested and incarcerated, leaving Ashley, the eldest daughter, to assume a caretaker role. Ashley stepped up to the challenge, juggling school, homework, cooking, cleaning, and caring for her two younger sisters while her stepfather worked full-time.

As you might imagine, Ashley has had to cope with feelings of frustration, sadness, confusion, and anger. Rather than turning to unhealthy pursuits, Ashley found solace at the Boys & Girls Club where she’s received support from Club staff and peers since age nine. Ashley created deep and lasting bonds with the Club staff who have been there to support her as she pursues her dream of being the first in her family to attend college.

With the goal of college in mind, Ashley has immersed herself in school, taking advanced placement and honors classes, pushing herself to maintain a 3.5 grade point average, and playing on Coronado’s varsity basketball team. She’s involved in her school’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, where she’s worked closely with tutors and mentors to prepare for the challenges of college. As a part of Coronado’s peer mentor program, Ashley has been guiding five freshmen through their first year of high school, giving advice, offering friendship, and building a deep bond of trust.

Ashley is continuously giving back to her community outside of school as well. For the past two and a half years, Ashley has spent hundreds of volunteer hours at Memorial Hospital cleaning and prepping the pediatric rehab room, sending orders to doctors, and performing hearing tests on day-old infants.

Last year, Ashley was the president of the Club’s community service program, Torch Club, where she and ten other members organized a food drive, toured the Humane Society, and helped Habitat for Humanity build a home. Ashley also gave a bullying prevention presentation to all the Club members, which included educational facts, peer-to-peer role playing, and personal reflection.

Despite all of the turmoil and tragedy in her life, Ashley has managed to keep her grades up, volunteer, play sports, develop lasting friendships, and graduate as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Today Ashley is well on her way, armed with a high GPA, hundreds of volunteer hours, an athletic background, and unlimited support from the Boys & Girls Club. She knows that she wants to work with kids in the medical field, and, next fall, she’ll be attending UCCS, where she plans to study public communications.

Ashley is a go-getter - when she sets her mind to something she gets it done. We’re so very proud that Ashley O’Donnell is now representing The Boys and Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region as our 2014 Youth of the Year.

Congratulations, Ashley!

Thank you for reading,

James Sullivan III, President & CEO