I know what it is like to feel invisible. I know what it is like to believe that my story does not matter. During my time in middle and high school, I saw myself as an insecure girl full of anxiety. Compared to my brother who had been dubbed “the smart one,” I felt dumb. In a community of people who didn’t look like me, I was bullied over my appearance. I simply felt defeated.
I knew that I was not alone in having a hard time. Many of my friends talked about the challenges they faced, such as homelessness, food insecurity, abuse and domestic violence. When I compared my test-taking anxiety to their issues, I felt as if my problems were not important enough to ask anyone for help. I found myself retreating into the shadows and feeling as if I needed to reinvent myself in order to have the same appeal and popularity as the influencers I saw on social media.
But what a difference four years can make!
Following a family move from Virginia to Georgia, my parents urged me to join the local Boys & Girls Club program – a Youth Center at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.
Immediately I began to build friendships and realized that this was not just a “program.” It was a place of growth and opportunity where I could be surrounded by people willing to invest in my success.
At the Club, I received the guidance and support I needed to face my insecurities head on. Today, I see myself as a strong, independent and caring young woman in her freshman year of college. The Boys & Girls Club has been the catalyst for me becoming the confident young lady I am today.
Getting to Know Myself by Getting Uncomfortable
Mentors like Ms. Maria at my Youth Center helped me to step out of the shadows and face my feelings of self-doubt head on..
Ms. Maria instilled in me that I, as my authentic self, am enough. She and my Club helped me overcome my fears of new people and new experiences. I’ll never forget when Ms. Maria organized an ice skating event around Christmas – I adamantly told her that I could not and would not ice skate because I was horrible at it. Of course, I ended up going and having an amazing time. I was not afraid to fall because Ms. Maria and the teens assured me that I could get up and try again. No one was going to judge me.
Through all of the moments like these I’ve had at my Club, I’ve come to realize that the only limitations I have are the ones I place on myself. Saying “yes” to chances to see myself in a new way made all the difference.
Opportunities for public speaking have literally placed me in the Boys & Girls Clubs limelight – I became a community and teen leader through our Keystone program, which empowers teen community involvement and leadership skills. And I worked hard to become the National Military Youth of the Year, a national teen spokesperson for military Club kids everywhere. These experiences and opportunities, and the faith my Youth Center had in me to achieve them, has given me a level of confidence and poise that I would have never imagined possible.
Did you know that 80% of Club youth said they understand how their feelings influence how they act?
Amplifying My Experience to Help Others
I know how important a positive self-image is for young women. During my participation in Club events and programs, I got the chance to speak to other young women like myself and I realized that the struggles and insecurities I faced are shared by others across the nation and around the world.
Being among those fellow young ladies directly led to the creation of my personal passion and platform. I’m proud to have launched a podcast with a focus on empowering other young women like me to move beyond their apprehensions and insecurities, find their own voices, and fight for those voices to be heard.
With my newfound confidence and strengths, I model professional and personal success to tell young women like me that they are beautiful, they can achieve and — if they stay the course — can reach every dream they imagine for themselves.
Did you know that 87% of Club youth said they can stand up for what is right?
An Engaged and Caring Generation
The people at my Club told and showed me that I have value, my story has value, and that I am surrounded by people who appreciate me for exactly the person I am. Because of this amazing support, I know my generation is going to do great things.
Every time I go to the Club and meet my peers from across the country, I see how intelligent, passionate and smart the kids and teens of my generation are. I feel so blessed to be a part of this because I recognize that we are a movement. We care deeply about what is going on in the world. We’re daring to discuss those hard topics that many want to sweep under the rug and never speak of. We want to help others and use our compassion to do great things.
Most of all, we have a purpose and a reason on this earth to inspire, uplift and motivate.
Our 2022 National Youth of the Year finalists represent the voices of more than 3.6 million Boys & Girls Club youth. Their stories inspire all of us to do what it takes to reach toward brighter futures. The Youth of the Year program wouldn’t be possible without sponsors like Kohl’s and Toyota who share a dedication to providing better tomorrows for young people. Learn more about Ahsha B. and our Youth of the Year program.
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Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides safe places, caring mentors and life-enhancing programs to millions of kids and teens annually. Join us on our mission of helping all young people reach their full potential: