Moving from the Philippines to the United States in middle school, Yuan U. knows the importance of inclusion and acceptance – and how his experience at the Boys & Girls Club of Parkersburg helped him become a leader in his new community.
My mom and I moved from the Philippines to the United States in 2016 to pursue the American Dream. When we moved here, I did not know anyone. I did not have any friends.
If you’re unfamiliar with a Filipino household, it’s multigenerational – you live like one big family with your parents, your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. For me, my mom worked a job in the city and commuted 2-3 hours to get to work, so I lived with my great grandma and her two sons.
When we moved to West Virginia, we didn’t have any family connections besides my stepdad and stepbrother. My closest relative is in Canada.
So, when my stepdad introduced me to the local Boys & Girls Club as a way to help me get to know my new world better, little did I know how this organization would change my perspective and my life.
It was confusing at first, transitioning to American culture, as English is not my first language. When I struggled with homework, there were tutors at the Club. And with the help of the Boys & Girls Club, the staff and Club members helped me feel connected to people again, like a family.
I made friends who showed me how the Boys & Girls Club made a difference in their lives. Now, I come to my Club basically every day, and it’s helped me learn that I’m a hard worker and a leader. Through our Club programs, I got first jobs as a junior staff member and then at Old Navy through the Club’s partnership there. Through these connections, I’ve job-shadowed a lot of different workplaces – law, healthcare, environmental sustainability and more – and it’s helping me narrow down what I’d like to do in college and after that.
At my school, I helped start a Diversity Council with my friend. The student population has about 8% minority students – meaning 92% of students are white. Our Diversity Council focuses on the different aspects of cultures and how they affect people and backgrounds. We talk about holidays like Halloween, Lunar New Year and Christmas, where they originated from and who celebrates them, and how those celebrations can look different in other cultures. When we talked about Japanese culture, we did origami together and had matcha. And we’ve been approved to have our own bulletin board to post pictures and activities so we can share these cultures with the whole school. We want this club to be for everyone, not just minority students, and we see that in our membership – we’re one of the larger groups in school.
Talking about diversity and inclusion is so important because it gives you a different perspective of who people are and what they have experienced.
My own experience is so different – the technology, the education system in the Philippines compared to here is incredibly different. So it’s important to share those differences and who we are, so we can be more accepting of each other.
After five years of being a Boys & Girls Club member and living here in the United States, I became my Club’s Youth of the Year. From there, I went on to become the state Youth of the Year for West Virginia. It is a pretty amazing journey to come from not knowing anyone and feeling like an outsider to representing the young people in our state.
I think the American Dream is about coming to America for these vast opportunities and using them to further your life and your experience, while also giving back to the community. I stay busy with school and crew, and my two part-time jobs. But I also make sure to show up at my Club most days, just like I’ve always done, but now I help out with the younger kids who come here looking for what I came for – family, mentors and connection.
Learn more about the innovative programs at Boys & Girls Clubs designed to empower youth to excel in school, become capable leaders and lead healthy, productive lives.