Abigail knows how it feels to be a teen outcast in high school, but at her Boys & Girls Club she found the support system she needed to use her voice to spark positivity and inclusion for all.
Fire is often something that people associate with negativity or destruction but, when used properly, fire heats, fuels and helps us to live better lives. If you have a fire inside of you, great things can happen.
My family’s experience has been challenging but our fire to succeed has turned our lives and the goals we pursue into something warm, supportive and beautiful.
My freshman year of high school was very tough. I had all of these expectations of my high school being a safe space where I truly belonged — where I’d fit in at Friday night football games and attend cool parties. However, as a person of color from a household that has experienced disadvantages, I felt like an outcast going to a predominantly white school in one of the richest counties in the United States.
It seemed like a lot of people didn’t care for my ideas because of my background. I felt lost, like I wasn’t “normal.” I thought that I was the problem, that something was wrong with me.
I’m usually a very vocal person who is always happy and loves motivating people to be the best version of themselves, but I felt as if I could not express my feelings. Throughout my freshman year, I was sad, and I didn’t want my family or friends to see that part of me. The COVID-19 pandemic made my situation worse because the isolation we all experienced forced me to face those challenges and negative thoughts on my own.
I’ve been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington since I was six years old. When I was feeling lost as a high school freshman, I turned to my mentors at the Club for their guidance and advice. Thanks to their support, I was able to finally express what I was feeling to my family members. Together, everyone reassured me and told me honest things I needed to hear to overcome the problems I faced.
When you’re a teen, having a safe space and trusted people to talk to means everything, and that can be really hard to find.
For me, I find that safe space at my Club through our “Teen Talk” program. Teen Talk was created at my Club by our Branch Director Mr. Michael and our Program Director Ms. Liz. The program has been an awesome way for teens to amplify their voices and talk about issues — such as gun violence, mental health, gender identity and racism.
These are the kinds of topics on teens’ minds these days, and yet most kids find them difficult to discuss with teachers, parents and other adults. In fact, Boys & Girls Clubs of America surveyed more than 600 teens in 2022 and found out that Club teens talk about social issues they care about more at the Club than with family or at school.
These talks have been great for finally being able to release all of the emotions we were feeling and relieve stress. I enjoyed them so much I became a moderator. Meanwhile, we saw such success with Teen Talk that we invited neighboring Boys & Girls Clubs to join us – even bringing these talks to our Regional Keystone Conference, part of our leadership programming for teens. Everyone was really feeling it!
My experiences with Teen Talk at my Club were exactly the kindling I needed to spark the change I wanted to see at my high school.
At a meeting during Spirit Week, I noticed that many of our minority students wanted more representation, especially as minority groups had come to represent much of our student population. When I spoke up about this lack of representation, I experienced bullying – from getting called a lot of racist names at school to negative comments on social media.
But that didn’t douse my fire. I launched a schoolwide inclusion initiative for students open to learning new things, meeting new people and embracing the chance to amplify their voices. We’ve met with our administrators, faculty, and staff to create policies for students to feel safe and be heard.
My inclusion initiative has supported the creation of a wellness day for both our high school staff and students and has offered such activities as yoga, sushi-making and karaoke. During our spring wellness day, we even had a petting zoo!
Other activities and initiatives like our mural competition have offered representation for our students to showcase our various ideologies, religions and perspectives.
We’ve gotten to demonstrate just how much stronger we are when we unite and honor our unique differences.
Now more than ever I want to ensure that everyone feels welcome, seen, and heard because feeling truly welcomed is such a big thing.
I want young people to understand that their voices do matter. I want young people to realize that when they walk through those blue doors at their local Boys & Girls Club, they have a village of support no matter the color of their skin, religious beliefs or gender identity. They have a village who will support them regardless of the challenges they face.
I want to meet teens across the country, get to know their stories and help them navigate life as Club kids and young people in general. I want to partner with organizations and people who are willing to help amplify young voices. I want to create programs and establish sessions for young people to network and express themselves. I also want to create career fairs where young people are presented with multiple ways to be successful after high school including going to college, attending a trade school, taking a gap year or going straight into the workforce. Most of all I want to help everyone to discover and use the fire they have inside of themselves.
Having a place to belong and someone who believes in you can have a powerful impact. Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year are a shining example of this and exemplify what it means to be a Boys & Girls Club kid. The Youth of the Year program wouldn’t be possible without Signature Sponsors Kohl’s & Toyota, who share a dedication to providing better tomorrows for young people. Learn more about Abigail A. and our Youth of the Year program and help us keep opening the door to Great Futures!
Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides caring adult mentors and life-shaping programs to millions of kids and teens each year. In safe, inclusive places, youth build the skills and resilience to thrive in school, the workplace and in life. Join us on our mission of helping all young people reach their full potential: