One lost his mother and sister in a fatal car crash.
One is a self-professed mama’s boy without a supportive father figure.
One was severely bullied from an early age.
One was abandoned by her father.
All were Youth of the Year contestants for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
Judges listened as the high school-aged boys and girls shared how the club positively impacted their lives.
“They truly care about me and are proud of me for who I am,” said Teyahna Woods.
Bullies made Woods’ life miserable at a young age. She said she was harassed due to her weight. Food was thrown at her during school meal times.
Today, Woods is 17 with a 3.5 GPA and the president of Key Stone, a leadership course at the club.
“I am being the role model and leader I was taught to be,” Woods said. “I am a leader and not a follower.”
She is determined to help others.
“I am determined to teach kids responsibility, courage, leadership; [and how] to overcome obstacles and get the education they deserve,” Woods said. “I am going to make a difference in my community.”
Woods’ voice was followed by Nathan Pfisterer. His life’s motto is, “You’re only as good as you think you are.” He said repeating these words helps on days where things are going bad.
Pfisterer was bullied in middle school for the color of his skin. He recalled a bully choking him while those nearby looked on. He said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, his mother, friends and a church camp supported him.
“When I was at my lowest point, they held me higher,” Pfisterer said.
Plans for Pfisterer’s future include becoming an Army Ranger and opening his own restaurant.
The stories continued one after another.
Richard Burke was, in the past, told he was worthless. His father placed him in special education classes. He proudly told the judges he was in mainstream courses as a freshmen in high school.
Burke said the club continues to positively affect his life.
“I just love the Boys & Girls Club. It [was] just a fun place to be while I grew up,” Burke said.
“I had people to love me for who I was, and not who they wanted me to be.”
Matthew Pell, Ryan Goodner, Meeri Shin and Clifton Biddwell shared their stories of adversity, as well.
The young students reached within to overcome life’s challenges while the Boys & Girls Clubs stood by their side.
Ryan Goodner said the Boys & Girls Club has been nothing but utter joy ever since he joined.
Matthew Pell shared a word of wisdom from a former club mentor, Carl Porter.
“He told me never just try to do anything, but to put my mind to it and get it done,” Pell said.
Charlie Sutton, Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland director, said the contestants are not alone in their experiences.
He said members of the club need their parents to step up into a role of leadership and affirmation.
“Who is it speaking into the lives of so many of these children? Who is telling them they have a future and the steps they need to take to accomplish their goals,” Sutton asked.
Continued Sutton, “Did you see the looks on those kids’ faces tonight? They have a hunger.”