Before Meeri and her family moved to Tennessee when she was about 5 years old, they moved frequently from one coast to the other.
But Meeri’s life started to unravel — emotionally and financially — around the time her parents started getting divorced when she was in the fifth and sixth grades.
“It was one thing after another,” Meeri said.
But since she was the oldest in her family, she was expected to take the lead. She has a younger sister, Yoori, 13, and a brother, Jay, 12, who has cerebral palsy. Meeri’s mom, Soonja, is a physical therapist's assistant at Amedysis Home Health Care in Athens. Meeri said she took on the role of a nurturing family member and also has become her brother’s tutor and a secondary caregiver.
“Don't get me wrong, though, my siblings and I still fight like every other sister with a pesky little brother and sister,” she said with a giggle, trying to make light of a difficult time in her life. “I’m bossy anyway. But all these things started building on one another.”
It wasn’t a happy time, she admitted. She credits her Korean background and its culture with giving her a solid and firm foundation. But she also gives a lot of the credit to finding a safe haven at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland. It became her saving grace.
So, instead of losing hope Meeri didn’t give up.
She didn’t give in.
She didn’t allow herself to give anything but her best.
“Failure is not an option,” she said emphatically. “Study hard and you will succeed. I hit the floor and ran. I did everything I had to do and then I did more. I have goals. I want to achieve. And I know what I have to do to achieve these goals. I want to make my parents proud.”
Instead of dwelling on her sorrows, she took action and started to do something about them.
“I can do this,” she said. “Yes, I can definitely do this.”
She started giving to others. Meeri started to work hard at school. She volunteered for clubs and organizations. She started a newspaper at Ocoee Middle School with her friends. She became part of the Beta Club, a club for academically excelling students, in middle school and eventually was voted to be its president.
“I gladly filled the president’s position,” she said.
Taking on responsibilities was impressed on Meeri at an early age.
“Someone had to do it and I felt I had an obligation to fulfill,” she explained.
She still is a member of the club.
But it’s not all academics Meeri is involved in. She also runs track and plays soccer. She is a member of the Future Business Leaders of America and the student government sophomore class secretary. She is a member of Inspiring Tomorrow's Leaders Today and a vice president of Keystone, a national youth leadership development program.She volunteers at the Johnson Teen Center helping to coordinate the junior staff, even teaching a program in Smart Moves, helping younger students resist peer pressure and teaching them how to deal with daily difficulties and making the right decisions. She also helps teach financial responsibility through a program called Money Matters, and she is involved in helping the staff at the Boys & Girls Club to write grant proposals.
“I volunteered,” she said. She saw grant writing as a way to expand her writing skills. She also wanted to prove that she could do it. In the process, she discovered she likes being able to have a say in what goes on.
“That’s why I am involved in all these things,” Meeri said. “But I also enjoy all the things I do. I love doing this. It’s fun.”
And in her free time, Meeri loves to read, especially biographies and historical fiction. She also loves to cook.
She has been accepted in the Governor’s School of Science at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville this summer and participates in school marching and concert bands, Spanish club, teaches saxophone, does arts and crafts, is in student government, writes and is a member of the Anchor Club, a worldwide service organization. She volunteers at a nursing home. She also attends the Health Occupation Students of America organization meetings because she wants to become a doctor, hoping to open her own clinic one day. Eventually, however, she wants to become the Surgeon General of the United States.
Now a 10th-grader at Walker Valley High School, Meeri has earned a 4.0 grade point average. Meeri was a Circle of Champion at OMS and is a Teen Scholar, currently taking all Honors courses. She is determined to graduate with Honors.
But how does she get so much done and attend so many organizations?
“I am very much organized. I manage my time well,” she said. And she doesn’t let her health suffer in the process either. She’s up at 7:15 a.m. but in bed by 10 p.m. “You learn to be fast.”
But one of the most wonderful surprises for Meeri in becoming involved with the Boys & Girls Club is all the new friends she has made.
“The Boys & Girls Clubs helped me to fit in,” she said. Between May and August, November and February, Meeri is at the Boys & Girls Club almost every day.
And one of Meeri’s biggest influences through the Boys & Girls Clubs is Maria Hernandez, last year’s Youth of the Year winner. They’ve become good friends now. “We hung out a lot together. I helped her with her Youth of the Year speech and it made me want to do it too.”
“I saw her do things and aspired to do what she was doing,” Meeri said.
So, when Meeri was named the 2011 Youth of the Year at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland at its annual formal dinner meeting earlier this year, it was one of the greatest highlights of her young life.
“I honestly never thought I would be in this position. I was so surprised,” she said. “If you had asked me in seventh grade what I would be like in 10th grade, I wouldn’t have pictured myself this way.”
A panel of seven local judges chose Meeri based on several criteria, including home and family responsibilities, moral character and high moral standards, community activities, scholastic activities, service to the Boys & Girls Clubs, future life goals, having overcome obstacles in life, poise, public speaking and two essays: one on what the Boys & Girls Clubs means to her and the other explaining why education after high school is important.
According to Meeri's essay on why the Boys & Girls Clubs is important to her, she wrote, “The staff here gives hope to those who don’t even know that they need it. They help those who don’t know how to ask for it. Many times when I didn't even know that I was struggling, the Boys & Girls Clubs was behind me helping me to stand. The Boys & Girls Clubs is a safe haven for many people who have lost their way.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs helped Meeri find her way through that difficult time in her life when her family and financial future were falling apart.
“This is only one of the many times the people at the Boys & Girls Clubs have been there for me,” she said. “The incredible staff shows me genuine concern with respectful honor to the type of person I am. They pulled me out of my shell and helped me to see that I am a person of worth. They continue to stand by me, to support me and to encourage me to move forward in my future ... ‘Great Futures Start Here’ (the motto for the Boys & Girls Clubs) couldn’t ring more true today. I am proud to be a part of an organization such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland.”
Shin will now go to Nashville to compete at the state level. If she wins, she will move on to the Regionals in Atlanta. If she prevails in Atlanta, the next step would be the Nationals in Washington, D.C. For more information about the local Boys & Girls Clubs, call the Tucker Unit at 385 3rd St. S.W. at 472-6826 or check out the website www.boysandgirlsclubs.info.