Another eighth-grader from Thomas Jefferson Middle School represented the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City again this year in the annual Missouri Youth of the Year contest.
Rubi Guillen, 14, knew she faced an uphill struggle — the other eight competitors were 10th- 11th- and 12th-graders.
Guillen, who was hobbled by a dislocated kneecap, said the experience has taught her a lot about how to compete.
"It's interesting in my current situation," she said, referring to her injury.
Students have to get an academic recommendation letter from a teacher to enter the competition, Guillen said. And they have to be involved in and support healthy lifestyles.
"There's a lot of paperwork that you have to go through — it's basic things about yourself," she said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the three finalists, Willard High School senior Sydney R. Schader, Parkway North High School junior Kahalia A. Adams, and Cole Camp High School senior Jazzmine M. Jones, were given opportunities to make a final speech to judges before the winner was announced.
The judges selected Jones, who plans to attend the University of Missouri in the fall and to study law, as the winner.
Jones said in her speech that her mother suffered from severe bipolar disorders. She was unable to hold a job, which left Jones' father to provide for a large family alone. However, he lost his well-paying job and took on two other jobs to try to make ends meet. He went back to college to work on his education, and the family fell apart.
The father eventually left.
Jones said that left her mother angry and bitter. She argued with her mother. Arguments eventually turned violent and physical.
At 15, Jones ended up taking care of her four younger siblings.
"I became so overwhelmed with my situation that I just couldn't handle it," Jones said. "I just began to shut down."
That was when she moved in with her grandmother in Cole Camp.
The tiny town was different than anything she had experienced before.
She had opportunities to join organizations — sports teams, clubs and social organizations.
Jones decided to try everything. She even played volleyball one year.
"Most of all, I was given the opportunity to join the Boys & Girls Club of West Central Missouri," she said. "The Boys & Girls Club had the biggest impact on me — definitely changing me for the better."
The club allowed her to see the way other people see her is as important as how she sees herself.
Young people's decisions affect their outcomes and whether they are successful, Jones said.
"I recall that before moving into Cole Camp, or joining the Boys & Girls Club, I was lost," she said. "I was empty. I was depressed. But, the Boys & Girls Club helped me find me. It helped me realize who and what I want to become."
The finalists offered well-refined comments. They spoke confidently from the podium Wednesday afternoon.
Building self-assurance is something the Jefferson City chapter would like to do with its students.
It has been no accident that the local Boys & Girls Club has chosen eighth-graders to compete for the Youth of the Year Award, said Stephanie Johnson, executive director of the local chapter.
The competition helps the students gain confidence and a voice, Johnson said. Last year, Keith DeWitt Stennis II, then 14, represented the club.
If the students continue to attend the club and continue to develop, there's nothing that keeps them from competing again year after year, Johnson said.
They can hone their speaking skills.
Jones received $6,000 in scholarships as the winner of the Missouri Youth of the Year. She will go on to compete in regional competition (involving neighboring states), Johnson said.
The winner of the regional competition has a chance to become a national winner.
Grace'e Lanai Carr, an eighth-grader from Knob Noster Middle school, was named Boys & Girls Club of Missouri Military Youth of the Year. She also received $6,000 in scholarships.
Emma King, who attends the Boys & Girls Club of Poplar Bluff, was named Junior Youth of the Year.