A member of the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City was one of nine young people who had a chance Thursday to be named Missouri Youth of the Year.
Keith DeWitt Stennis II, 14, an eighth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, credited the seven years he has attended the local Boys & Girls Club with teaching him several life lessons he plans to use to reach his goal "of becoming a computer engineer and a helpful citizen."
The nine students including Stennis who competed for Missouri Youth of the Year vied for a $5,000 scholarship from Boys & Girls Club of America and a chance to compete at the regional and national levels for thousands of dollars in scholarship money and an opportunity to "spend time in the Oval Office with the President of the United States," according to the program that was hosted at Jefferson City Country Club.
The nine youth — named Youth of the Year to represent their individual local clubs — spoke Thursday about how their membership in their local Boys & Girls Club has helped them develop as leaders in their community and sometimes helped them overcome obstacles in their lives such as shyness, illness, divorce, poverty, homelessness, and cultural and language barriers.
"Resilience and perseverance" are consistent themes in young people's speeches every year, said Stephanie Johnson, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City.
"The Boys and Girls Club teaches me the importance of academic excellence" through its Power Hour, STEM learning activities, homework checks and weekly grade checks, Stennis said. He added he's learned how to be a creative thinker and work as part of a team — such as a robotics team he recently was a part of — and has learned the value of being active in the community.
He's active in Boy Scouts of America — St. Joseph Cathedral's Troop 104, according to his mom, Benita Stennis — and sports. He wrestles and is a linebacker in football.
"These activities have taught me perseverance. For example, my first year of wrestling, I only had three wins with 13 losses. I could have given up, but I decided to keep training hard and working. The next season, I had 14 wins with three losses," he said.
Keith said he plans to earn the rank of Eagle Scout within the next year and a half.
Benita said he attends Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church and volunteers as a reading buddy with the Missouri River Regional Library in the summer.
He said he was nervous at first at the podium Thursday, but he grew more confident as he noticed the attentiveness of the audience.
Jaydun Sydnor, 17, of the Boys & Girls Club of Springfield was named Missouri Youth of the Year.
Syndor has been a member of his club for 12 years. He lives on his own, works two jobs to support himself, maintains a 3.3 grade point average, is a three-season athlete, and is a coach and tutor at his local Boys & Girls Club.
Johnson said Stennis or anyone else could be nominated more than once.
Stennis plans to attend Purdue University and pursue a career in computer software or networking.
The other seven nominees were Autumn Vaughn, of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Charles County; Jacob Rogers, of the West Central Missouri club; Jasmine White, the Ozarks; Karen Maturino, Southwest Missouri; Michaelmonique Mayo, Greater St. Louis; Shelby Lutes, Poplar Bluff; and Vanesa Rodriguez, Greater Kansas City.
The Youth of the Year judges were Kim Baughman, of the Missouri Department of Economic Development; Hannah Cleeton, Office of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt; Nate Johnson, Real Estate Solutions; Patrick Luebbering, Department of Social Services; Angie Stuckenschneider, Missouri Department of Mental Health; and Emily Van Schenkhof, Children's Trust Fund.
The luncheon Thursday was sponsored by Missouri Realtors. Toyota and Disney sponsor the National Youth of the Year competition.