2013 Youth of the Year Finalists
Six accomplished Boys & Girls Club members, but only one national winner ...
Jesse Friedman
Boys & Girls Clubs of South Oakland County, Royal Oak, Mich.

Midwest Region: Jesse Friedman became a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Oakland County when he was 9 years old. He found his place in the Club through sports, joining the BeFit Running Club almost immediately to train for a 5K road race. He completed the race, giving Club staff their first glimpse – but not their last – of his fierce determination. He applied that same discipline to academics, graduating with a 3.85 GPA. Two years as president of the Keystone Club sparked his interest in a human services career. He is currently attending the University of Michigan in pursuit of that goal.

Yossymar Rojas
Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

Pacific Region: Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley helped give Yossymar Rojas the strength to defy the odds in a community where drugs, alcohol and gangs were a constant concern. Yossymar steered clear of those influences, becoming not only the first in his family to graduate high school, but also class valedictorian. While concentrating on his education, he found time to coach soccer, mentor younger Club members, lead the Keystone Club to national community service recognition and volunteer regularly at a local food pantry. Now at the University of California, Irvine, he plans to major in biomedical engineering.

Kiana Knolland
Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas, Wichita, Kan.

Southwest Region: A childhood peppered with injustice would have made some young people distrust the legal profession, but Kiana Knolland’s difficult background strengthened her commitment to her goal of becoming an attorney. As a sophomore, she took the initiative to ensure a quality education when she applied for and received a full scholarship to a local private school. Kiana’s drive led to mentoring by the local district attorney and an internship with one of Kansas’ largest law firms. She credits Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas, which she joined at age 5, for instilling in her the confidence, drive and strong work ethic she needed to pursue her dream. She’s taken the next step toward her career in the legal field as a freshman at Howard University.

Martaluz “Martha” Olang
Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford, Conn.

Northeast Region: Martha Olang reluctantly began hanging around the Parkville Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford at age 11, not sure she wanted to join, but unable to stay away. By her 12th birthday, however, she was a fully committed Club member who’d logged more than 1,200 hours of community service. Staff and programs at the Club provided Martha with opportunities she didn’t know existed and inspired her commitment to community service – including a trip to Biloxi, Miss., to repair a home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The Club allowed her to see that she could accomplish great things by helping others. Martha entered Chaminade University at Honolulu this fall and plans to major in forensic science.

Meeri Shin
Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, Tenn.

Southeast Region: At an early age, Meeri Shin was thrust into the role of leader as the oldest of three children. It was a role she seemed born to play. In fact, her leadership skills were evident the moment she walked into Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland at age 11. She thrived at the Club and in school, becoming president of her Keystone Club at age 14, teaching SMART Moves to her peers and founding her high school debate team. Inspired by her community service and the devastating financial effects medical bills had on her family, Meeri’s long-term goal is to open a free clinic. To ensure the education she needs to reach that goal, she enrolled this year at the University of California at Berkeley.

RaShaan Allen
Military Youth of the Year

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, RaShaan Allen lost his home, his neighborhood, his school and his best friend, leaving what he says is a permanent hole in his heart. Today, it is clear his heart is healing, even if the hole will never completely disappear. RaShaan credits Club and extracurricular activities with helping him grow and heal. He served as co-president of the Club Youth Council and as Army Family Action Plan delegate. At school, RaShaan played eight varsity sports and captained six of those teams. He also served as president of both his freshman and senior classes. He was elected governor at Kentucky Boys State, a program focused on state government. He is now at Western Kentucky University, where he plans to major in political science.