Autumn Cuellar, an 18-year-old senior at Carson High School, earned the title of 2016 Nevada State Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Cuellar competed against club members from Las Vegas, Mason Valley, Reno and Elko. Cuellar won the local Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada competition in January.
“Youth of the Year is a national program all clubs across the U.S. have adopted,” Matt Sampson, program director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, said. “It is the highest award any Club member can receive.”
Sampson said the judging is based on grammar, organization, poise and comportment in public speaking during a speech about their personal club experience and what the club means to them; their application packet; an information page and three essays on topics selected for them. Competitors must also provide letters of recommendation.
Cuellar advances to compete in the Pacific Region contest in California this summer after having won both the local and state contests. If she wins at the regional level, she moves on to the final, national round where she will compete at the White House, giving her speech in the Oval Office with the President Barack Obama in attendance. Winners in each contest receive scholarships at every level.
Cuellar, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age, joined the Club at age 11. She said the Club has provided her with a safe, fun environment in which to grow, and now serves as junior staff at the Carson City Clubs.
“Before joining the Club, I felt scared, alone and in the dark every day,” she said. “The light that guides me is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, providing me with safety, family and hope. It provides a safe environment to have fun and it ignites my passion to help others by sharing my knowledge with younger members.”
Cuellar plans to attend the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall to study computer engineering. She was accepted into the Women in Science and Engineering Living and Learning Center and plans to continue volunteering with the Boys & Girls Clubs during winter and summer breaks.
“The club allows you to be who you want to be,” she said. “You should never be scared to be who you are.”