Deserving of the praise

Published 7:52 pm Monday, March 16, 2015

Alicia Jackson is a very different person today from the one who began attending the Boys and Girls Club’s Suffolk unit seven years ago.

Back then, she was shy and slow to open up to strangers, even those her own age. Today, she’s a volunteer in that same organization — working with children in kindergarten through second grade, helping them complete their homework and to participate fully in the club’s various programs.

On Thursday, the girl who came to Boys and Girls Clubs feeling like an outsider and afraid to socialize with others found herself in the spotlight during an awards presentation for all of the Hampton Roads units of the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Virginia. The King’s Fork High School senior was named the organization’s Youth of the Year during its annual banquet in Norfolk.

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That’s a remarkable story of change, but it’s just the kind of thing Boys and Girls Clubs specialize in. It’s right there in the organization’s mission statement, in fact: “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Young people like Alicia Jackson and the other Hampton Roads nominees for Youth of the Year are the epitome of what Boys and Girls Clubs stand for. They are youth who have benefited from the engagement and support of a community of young adults and youth leaders. And, perhaps as important, they are people who choose to give back to that community by volunteering to mentor the youngsters who now sit in the chairs and at the tables where these youth once sat with other mentors and friends.

Boys and Girls Club exists, according to its website, to provide a safe place to learn and grow, to foster ongoing relationships with caring adult professionals, to present life-enhancing programs and character-development experiences — and, perhaps most important, to give participants hope and opportunity.

Nurtured in such an environment, people like Alicia Jackson can achieve their best, and they can help others do the same.

Congratulations to Jackson and to the Suffolk unit for their distinction this year. Both are highly deserving of the praise.