When Daishanay found herself overwhelmed with juggling so many responsibilities at once, her Boys & Girls Club gave her the space to be a kid again and the motivation to move toward her goals with grace and confidence.
Out on the flag football field, I am determined, confident, ambitious and hopeful. I keep my head in the game with a focus on being an asset to my team. I position myself to catch the ball and once I secure it, I move toward the end zone. I leverage strength, agility and strategy to keep my feet on the ground and my flags at my side.
Becoming a flag football athlete taught me many things:
I’ve applied each of these lessons to being the change I want to see in my community. To bring about that change, I know I have to be as resolute as I am on the field, ready to work as a team toward something greater. And I learned this thanks to my Boys & Girls Club, where I first tapped into the passion and power I have inside.
At first, I wasn’t interested in flag football (or any sports activities for that matter!) because I never had the opportunity to play when I was younger.
My family faced challenges with childcare and transportation that made it difficult for me to participate in school sports. I never blamed my mom because I knew she was doing her best. Instead, I helped out around the house in any way that I could.
I was that little kid who grew up fast, trying to be a lot to everyone, including myself. I became fiercely independent and self-reliant in everything I set my mind to. Effectively, I was my own team — and I thought it was working for me.
That’s why when I first started going to Boys & Girls Clubs of Northern Rhode Island around the age of 12, I was skeptical. I wondered what anyone at the Club could possibly offer me. (Honestly, I assumed I’d be bored.)
Instead, I realized being a team of “one” wasn’t serving me. At my Club, the staff and activities helped me connect with my peers, get involved and learnt that my voice can make a difference.
My Club mentors, like Ms. Bonnie, urged me to take up flag football, so I gave it a try. What I most loved about becoming a flag football athlete is that I got to be a kid again. I also saw how important it is to have a team who understands me, values my ideas and the mutual effort of ensuring we’re each being our best selves on the field and off.
As I developed my leadership skills, I realized that I am someone my peers look to. And I found a passion that I could really pour my skillset and dedication into — community service.
My Club is deeply involved in our community and I threw myself into helping and leading community initiatives. I instantly knew I’d found an interest that would shape my future.
Community service gave me a sense of purpose and meaning in my daily life. I woke up each day feeling joyful about the positive impact I was making in the lives of the people in my community.
To celebrate diversity and inclusion, I worked closely with my Club mentor and director to plan and execute the first Juneteenth celebration, as well as a Hispanic Heritage event in our community. I helped to organize and facilitate nonviolence initiative meetings at the Club. I collaborated with agencies and organizations to provide students with mental health resources, engage in political activism and to advocate for smart policy reforms.
As a member of the nonprofit The Milagros Project, I helped provide basic necessities and food to those in need. The opioid epidemic is very real in my community, and I’m proud to have received training to provide first aid for opioid overdoses.
Through it all, I learned so much about myself and I was allowed to grow.
Just as my team did on the flag football field, my Club mentors always made sure I was moving in the right direction. They have been there for me through hard times.
When I encountered a series of back-to-back situations that felt overwhelming, I became worried about what my future held and experienced depression. I couldn’t face going to school, so I stopped going. But during that time, I never stopped going to my Club.
Each time Mr. Ellis, my Club director, saw me without a backpack, he was not happy about it, but I appreciate that he never judged me. He wanted me to succeed and I will never forget what he said: “Even if you don’t wake up on time for school, you can still go to school. Late does not mean denied. Still go and do what you need to do.”
With his encouragement, I learned another very important thing about myself: Even if an experience scares me, if it’s going to help me grow, then I’m going for it.
And it’s good to know that even on your worst days, there are people who will always believe in you.
As I prepare to go into my senior year of high school and look to life after graduation, I’m aiming to study Human Development and Family Services with a double major in Political Science and a Minor in Spanish. I’m passionate about representation. I’m enthusiastic about mental health and wellness. I’m eager to get started and let everyone know that going after their dream — even if it seems hard or impossible — is always worth getting in the game.
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, and Marquee Sponsor Mondelez International, who share a dedication to providing better tomorrows for young people. Learn more about Daishanay F. and the Youth of the Year program and join us in opening more doors to great futures for America’s youth.
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: