Every year, BGCCA participates in the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year (YOY) competition. The competition involves nominating a Club teen who will then compete by delivering a speech to a panel of judges discussing how attending the Boys & Girls Club has positively influenced them. The winner becomes the national BGC ambassador for an entire year.
Although BGCCA has yet to have a teen make it to the final round in the National competition, we always have a BGCCA Youth of the Year participating in the New York State competition. This year, the title went to Diamond Owens, a high school junior who attends the Troy Club.
“To be Youth of the Year,” Diamond said as she set up plates of food for the Club’s Pre-K students, something she does every weekday, “you have to represent what the Boys & Girls Club stands for. You also have to have a certain number of volunteer hours; I’ve been volunteering at the Club for several years as well as attending the Teen Program, so I qualified no problem.”
Diamond started attending BGCCA’s Teen Program back in 2015, when she was having a difficult time in school. She confided, “My teachers used to talk about me like, ‘Oh, Diamond is from a single-parent household and is less fortunate, she’ll be the first to drop out and we’ll never hear from her again.’ I went to an alternative school for two years, and needed more professionals to vouch for me, to say that I could attend regular public school again, so I joined the Club.
“At the Club, I gained a lot of self-peace and self-understanding. Elvira [BGCCA’s Food Program Director] influenced me a lot. She taught me my own self-worth. I used to call myself ugly, until one day Elvira made me stand in front of a mirror until I said nice things about myself, inside and out. Jerry Ford [Block Program coordinator, volunteer] taught me how to trust people, especially men. And Jennifer Livingston [Block Program volunteer] taught me how to be serious and have fun."
“They all use ‘character’ as an acronym: commitment, honor, action, respect, accountability, trust, empowerment, resilience. They work hard to make sure you have everything you need to succeed.”
Diamond knows a thing or two about success: as BGCCA’s Youth of the Year, she made it to the final round of the New York State YOY competition, something that BGCCA hasn’t seen in fifteen years! In addition, she said, “I’m the first person in my immediate family to get to eleventh grade, and I will be the first in my extended family to go to college. Everyone in my family used to say, ‘the Owens kids won’t amount to anything,’ so it feels really good to accomplish so much. And my mom is so proud; she tells all of our family how I’m breaking new ground. Now all I have to worry about are scholarships.”
After her senior year of high school, Diamond plans on going to Schenectady Community College, and then transferring to the College of Saint Rose to study business and get a culinary certification. “I’m also an artist, and sell my art,” she says, “and I also love writing, so I want to write an autobiography about my life. I want people to remember me for what I did, especially the things people said I couldn’t do. And I can’t wait.”