Alicia Barchus has always been picked on, starting, to the best she can remember, at age 9. Over the years, the taunting turned to alienation.
“I remember this girl in one of my classes told me she couldn’t be my friend because then no one would like her,” Alicia recalled. “I was crushed. I only had a few friends and felt like the whole school hated me without even knowing me.”
When she joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada in the fourth grade, she expected more of the same.
“I thought it would be another place where I’d get teased, but I was wrong,” Alicia said. “A kid started picking on me and instantly, a staff told the kid to cut it out. I was shocked that a stranger helped me.”
The club soon became her safe haven, a place where she could indulge her artistic endeavors.
“When I was that awkward kid who nobody wanted to talk to, I always had my music and art to escape to,” Alicia said. “At the club I never felt weird for wanting to do that, and the staff and other members encouraged me to believe in who I was. This made it easier to make it through endless days of bullying at school.”
She was a founding member of the Glee Club, which now has about 100 members. As a “Gleeder” she has been responsible for deciding on music, creating choreography for large groups of younger members and teaching both the music and dance to 50 youths ages 8-18. She worked with neighboring clubs to organize a flash mob at a all.
She also participates in a partnership program between the local arts foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, called Diving into the Arts. Recently, she mentored younger members also participating in a musical through this program. She held a starring role but could be found weekly practicing younger members’ lines and helping to rehearse songs.
For her dedication to the club and its members, as well as her perseverance to overcome personal obstacles, Alicia, 17, was named as the 2013 Youth of the Year. She now will compete against other Boys & Girls Clubs members for the Nevada Youth of the Year title and a $1,000 college scholarship from Tupperware Brands. The winner will be announced during a ceremony today at the Governor’s Mansion.
“Alicia is a very good candidate for Nevada Youth of the Year,” said Bridget Gordon, teen director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada. “She really represents the struggles all of our kids are going through.”
While the club offered a refuge from classmate bullying, it also became an escape from Alicia’s hardships at home.
Living in a mobile home in Stagecoach, the family was hard hit by the economic downturn. Her father, a carpenter, was laid off from his job in 2007, and continues to be unemployed. The family survives solely on Alicia’s mother’s state employment income.
“While my friends are all getting new clothes, or haircuts, or new electronics, I am stressing about whether or not my mom can afford gas for our commute, and if we can buy the things we need to feed ourselves,” she said. “I think about forgoing and budgeting while everyone else seems to be thinking about wanting more.”
If Alicia wins at the state competition, she will compete for the title of Pacific Region Youth of the Year and an additional $10,000 scholarship from Tupperware, the recognition program’s national sponsor. Five regional winners will advance to Washington, D.C., in September to compete for National Youth of the Year. The National Youth of the Year will receive a scholarship of up to $50,000 from the Rick and Susan Goings Foundation and will have the opportunity to meet with the president of the United States in the White House.
She said the scholarship would be instrumental in helping her pursue her dreams.
“I plan on being a teacher when I’m older,” she said. “I love music, and helping people who are struggling with anything from math, to relationships, to life in general. I would like to get a job working with kids, teaching them to love music as much as I do.”
It could also bring her some financial stability, needed now especially as she is suffering a stomach ailment and lacks the resources to find the medical help she needs.
While her life has not been easy, she’s now grateful for the lessons learned.
“I used to think about how my life could have been different; I wondered how I would be if I had changed the way I looked,” she said. “Now I’m glad for the things that happened. They shaped me into the person I am today. Strong, and proud to be me.”
She owes that outlook, she said, to the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“To me, the club means family,” she said. “My family is my club, surrounded by my friends and the staff who make me feel valued. No kid should ever have to feel the way I did growing up, and the Boys & Girls Club can assure they don’t.”