The Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Nevada celebrated exceptional Carson City teens Thursday night at its annual Youth of the Year awards.
The night was meant to recognize staff, members and donors at a dinner and awards ceremony.
“I am so grateful for every child in this room, from kids to teens,” said executive director Katie Leao. “You should be so proud of your sons and daughters who come to this club.”
Mayor Bob Crowell, City Manager Nick Marano, Board of Supervisors members, the sheriff and more were present to show their support for the club.
Six candidates were vying for the title that recognizes leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to living a healthy lifestyle. Angel Natividad, Arely Avina, Chyler Beck, Daniel Simon, Mia Liao and Natalie Ontiveros were all in the running for the award.
“These teens are amazing,” Leao said. “We just have phenomenal teen members and their stories will touch you and it tells you why we do this job.”
Each candidate had a personal story to share about how the Boys and Girls Club changed their life; from learning how to grow as a person to changing their entire outlook on the world to how the staff helped care and shape the teens.
Liao took home the Youth of the Year award, and happy tears were shed with her family as she was named the winner.
Liao told the story of her first day at the club, how her parents forced her there because she was going down a bad path. How on day one she had been creating counterfeit wristbands and planning to plant drugs in a teacher’s desk to get her fired.
“I walked into Boys and Girls Club with an I want to die attitude,” Liao said.
Liao said as time went on she found friends and programs that allowed her to build skills and an attitude to grow into a better person. She also talked about how the growth helped her become a person that exists outside of the stereotypes put upon her for being an Asian woman.
“It is hard to accept your interior self when people tell you what you should and shouldn’t be,” Liao said. “I won’t let anyone walk into my mind with dirty feet, that is a quote from Gandhi.”
Liao will go on to compete at the Nevada state competition in Las Vegas in March.
“Youth of the Year is the highest honor a club member can receive and all of our 2018 candidates deserve to be recognized for their hard work,” said operations director Matt Sampson.
Leao credited the staff for helping to create bonds with the students over the years that helped them grow and succeed.
“If you heard, almost all of the stories started with I didn’t want to go (to the club) but by the time they were teenagers they were looking forward to it every day,” Leao said. “That is what we want, they have created beautiful bonds with our staff and this is the impact our staff has with the kids here.”
The organization for both Western Nevada and Carson Valley clubs presented nearly two dozen awards to members and employees to recognize the great things and great attitudes seen at the clubs.
When introduced, the winners were described as kind, funny, smart and that they light up a room with their smiles and actions.
“We are here to award some amazing young men and women,” Leao said.
The leaders also introduced the employee of the year, Eamon Webb, a woman who they described as a hard-working, dedicated individual.
“(She) comes in and barely makes minimum wage but does all she can and makes a huge impact on our kids,” Sampson said. “She has grown more than I have ever seen growth at the Boys and Girls Club. She works hard every day, takes on any job that we ask her to do and is always there with a smile and support. We appreciate her.”
Leao also made sure to honor several donors who helped create a better club. A local family, Lori Frezzo and Dennis Ohmenzetter won the Carson City Community Partner award for helping remodel the club’s most popular area the tech center.
“They came to us and said we want to do something to give back,” Leao said. “Our tech center is one of the most popular, and they have made an impact.”
“They transformed it from welcome to the ’90s … and now it has become a beautiful space.”
She explained that their donation helped buy new laptops for the area, recreate the space so it is more functional and they even started a scholarship.
“They have been tremendous,” Leao said.
In addition to the awards, the club celebrated its 25th anniversary in Carson City.
“It’s amazing to think that the futures of so many Carson City youth started with us,” Leao said. “We have over 400 children coming through our doors daily, and we strive to improve upon our mission each year which is to enable all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring individuals. We are excited for the next 25 years and can’t wait to see the next generation of great futures grow with us.”