Jake Fenzke, 17, has had his moments of hopelessness.
His parents split when he was young, his father battling addictions to gambling, alcohol and other drugs. His mother struggled to support the three children, sometimes resorting to living with friends or in a motel.
“Then our mom started online dating,” he said. “That’s when things started tumbling down.”
One boyfriend, Fenzke said, was particularly abusive.
“That’s when (my mom) decided, that’s it,” he said.
After the abuse, he said, he enrolled in counseling and learned how to set boundaries and to become comfortable with himself.
Fenzke credits therapy, along with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, for helping him through his darkest days.
“The club helped me to realize there is light just beyond the horizon,” he said. “You just have to reach for that light.”
For his resilience and determination, Fenzke was named the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada’s Youth of the Year. The program celebrates youth who have overcome the odds to demonstrate exceptional character and accomplishment.
“Jake has inspired me in his endless determination and drive,” said Bridget Gordon of the Boys & Girls Club. “Jake’s ability to set a goal and to achieve it has been a constant theme. He has had to overcome many personal challenges.”
To receive the distinction, Fenzke presented a speech to a group of judges. He was selected from among five nominees.
“I was excited to get it,” he said. “But I do think everybody did a great job. We’ve all overcome our own struggles.”
Fenzke started going to the club when he was about 6.
“We tried day care. We tried some other things,” he recalled. “Then my mom brought us to the Boys & Girls Club. It was just amazing. It was like a second home.”
A junior at Carson High School, Fenzke works as a junior leader at the club and plans to pursue a career in astronomy. He will travel next week to Las Vegas, where he will compete for State Youth of the Year against representatives from six other cubs for a $1,000 scholarship.
“I want to have a life that is full of possibility,” he said. “I know there are more outcomes. I think the club has helped me to understand that.”
He said his relationships are improving with both of his parents.
“Life isn’t necessarily forgiving,” he said, “but you can forgive your past. There’s nothing you can do to change it.”
As he moves forward, he said, he will always be grateful for his time at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada.
“I am able to be what I am because the club has helped me,” he said. “I continue to look forward in life.”