The winner, Ramonia Dixon of Arizona, was awarded National Youth of the Year along with a $65,000 scholarship.
Hernandez, who will arrive home from Washington later today, met with Obama and Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington in the Oval office concerning ways to increase graduate rates.
She and the other four finalists also went to dinner with the actor, according to Derrick Kinsey, director of operations with the local Boys and Girls Clubs affiliate.
At the national event, Grammy Award-winning singer Ashanti was named the new spokesperson for the Youth of the Year National Boys and Girls program. Attendees were also presented with the new Boys and Girls Club motto, “Great Futures Start Here.”
Hernandez had a spectacular run, winning city, state and regional titles as Youth of the Year. So far, she has received $60,000 in scholarship money.
The Walker Valley High School graduate will be traveling with the Youth of the Year program to speak at the Southeast Chairman’s dinner Oct. 14. Discussions are also under way about sending Hernandez and the other finalists, including the winner, overseas for speaking opportunities.
“We want the community to understand that as a Boys and Girls Clubs and United Way agency, Maria is showing kids the standards they all can reach,” said Kinsey. “Our standards are so high we’re reaching the White House.”
Hernandez, president of the Keystone Club and a regular participant in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life fundraiser and Walk For Life, is expected to arrive back in Cleveland between 4:30 to 5 p.m. today. The Boys and Girls Clubs will host a reception for Hernandez at 5 p.m. at the Johnson Teen Center on 385 Third Street. The public is invited.
Kinsey said everyone should be proud of the accomplishments of Cleveland’s “shining star. She represented the city, state and Southeastern region with poise, charisma and intelligence and it reflects well on all youths,” he added.
“She has gone from no recognition to stardom in a year and she’s still the same jolly, sweet, genuine person she has always been. People are captivated by her,” Kinsey said. “She’s precious and people recognize that.”
As far as being a runner-up among the finalists, Kinsey added, “They’re all winners. The top five are all national winners. There are no losers at this level. They all got the red-carpet treatment. We hope everyone will come out (today) and celebrate with us.”
Hernandez is also a mentor through the Bridging the Gap Mentor program and a strong supporter of the Against Underage Drinking In Our Community program, as well as the One Life, One Choice program.