At first glance, you may be tempted to make an assumption about Autumn Cuellar. But you’d be wrong.
“People judge me from the outside, and they don’t get to know me,” she said. “I’m smart, and I can do a lot of things.”
Autumn, 17, was born with a rare form of cerebral palsy, which has significantly affected her motor skills and her speech.
But Matt Sampson, program director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, said he’s never known the Carson High School junior with a 4.3 grade-point average to make excuses.
Her resiliency, he said, is what has made her stand out, and the reason why she was selected as the club’s Youth of the Year.
“She prides herself on her determination to not let her disability define her,” Sampson said. “She uses the Boys & Girls Clubs to help meet her goals and make her dreams come true. Autumn has always been and continues to be an incredibly resilient young lady.”
Autumn has been attending the club for six years.
“I love it here,” she said. “It’s like a second family to me. All of my friends are here. It’s just amazing.”
She said she was flattered to be chosen for the award.
“I was very excited and honored,” she said.
And although she didn’t win at the state level, she was grateful to have participated in the process.
“I had so much fun at the state competition,” she said. “I’m just very happy I got to be a part of the whole experience and meet the other candidates.”
Sampson said Autumn left her mark on the state program as well. As part of the competition, candidates are required to give a speech with a three-minute time limit.
Because of Autumn’s cerebral palsy, her speech is slower, making it nearly impossible to deliver an address with any content within that time frame.
She petitioned for and received permission for an exception to the rule.
“She has been able to open doors for kids with disabilities who may have been discouraged from participating in the process in the past,” Sampson said.
In her speech, Autumn spoke about the importance of acceptance.
“My club challenges and enables me to be the best person I can be,” she wrote. “I am able to stand up for myself because of their help.”
After graduation, Autumn hopes to study engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at email@example.com.