Today, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America announced Kiana Knolland as their 2013-2014 Youth of the Year. She was chosen among six finalists at a congressional breakfast this morning where each finalist shared their personal stories about the impact the Boys and Girls Clubs of America has had on them.
Each finalist overcame almost insurmountable adversity in their lives. They shared stories about adoption, poverty, siblings with disabilities, growing up in broken homes, or being raised in communities torn by violence and drugs. Each acknowledged that even at a young age they realized the despair and hopelessness of their situation, but after joining their local Boys and Girls Club chapter, they found a safe haven away from home, and the resources and opportunities they needed to achieve their dreams. Knolland is now a student at Howard University, and the other finalists also attend college, including the University of Michigan and UC Berkley.
Many families dream of seeing their children graduate from high school and then college, and even though these finalists were born in such adverse environments, they were able to achieve that dream.
At the congressional breakfast, congressmen from both sides of the aisle convened to show their support for the six finalists. “Investing in children is better and cheaper than fixing broken men,” they said. “We’ll never know the adversity these finalists face,” and, “These finalists serve as an example of what we can accomplish in spite of our challenges.”
Hearing both sides of the aisle recognize the vital work a human services organization like Boys and Girls Clubs of America does is remarkable in the current political climate. These finalists attributed their ability to overcome their obstacles to the Boys and Girls Clubs, but through their stories it was clear that they and their families relied on a wealth of human services organizations to work at their full potential, break through adversity, become leaders, and then achieve the American Dream.
These finalists represent more than the hard work that Boys and Girls Clubs of America does every day. They also represent what’s possible for every citizen in this country to achieve when fully supported systems and ladders are in place to provide everyone an equal opportunity to climb to the top. As a field, we are proud of these individuals and the work that Boys and Girls Clubs of America does. But at the same time, we hope that congressmen recognize that beyond this great organization are its partners and collaborators—the whole human services field—who lift up America’s families and allow equal opportunity for all to attain the American Dream.