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South Bend Tribune Viewpoint

Boys & Girls Club forever a part of me

South Bend Tribune Viewpoint

June 17, 2024

The following is a Viewpoint published in the South Bend Tribune on June 6, 2024, by Rima, our 2024 Indiana Youth of the Year:

The Boys & Girls Club has been a vital part of my growth as an individual. It has provided me with experiences and opportunities that have shaped who I am today. Through its supportive environment, diverse activities and mentorship, the club has been instrumental in my personal development. Without its presence in my life, I would have missed out on crucial experiences that have not only expanded my perspective but have also empowered me to strive for my goals.

When I was 2 years old, my family experienced an unthinkable tragedy: My 22-year-old brother was murdered while walking home. As expected, my parents and siblings had to deal with tremendous grief. While I was never neglected, you can understand that there was some instability within our family of 12. When I was 5 years old, my parents enrolled my twin brother and me in the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County. This was a crucial step in the healing process for me and my brother because it gave us the stability that we needed to not just grow, but excel, in our adolescent age.

Throughout my youth, my family wasn't able to be consistent with the Boys & Girls Club. After two years in the program, I was enrolled in a school that did not offer that opportunity. For what felt like eons to a younger me, the staff and members of the club had been family. Leaving that bond behind also meant retreating from many of the people I was comfortable talking to. Because of this, many around me, including my parents, noticed a difference in my overall well-being. They soon understood that the consistent structure and stability were providing opportunities and experiences that were a true benefit to my personal growth.

Being a part of the Boys & Girls Club has shaped me in ways I would have never expected. As a young child, I was very shy and overall not very confident. The club showed me how to step outside of my comfort zone and truly be comfortable with the person that I am. Because of this I had high expectations when rejoining the club my ninth grade year. I was struck by both the familiar faces and the changes that occurred. Yet, amidst it all, the sense of belonging remained unchanged.

In just a year I have already grown so much due to rejoining the program. As a sophomore, I currently participate in FIRST Robotics, track, volleyball, basketball, SBM Youth Leadership and much more. I have been named the St. Joseph County Youth of the Month (April 2023), St. Joseph County Youth of the Year (2023), the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County Youth of the Year (2023), and most recently the 2024 Indiana Youth of the Year for Club, all while maintaining a 4.33 GPA. I’ve also been given the opportunity to travel with my club to the Indiana Statehouse numerous times, as well as Washington, D.C., to discuss topics that are especially important to me, including the support of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Indiana to further reach kids that may be in similar predicaments.

Personally, the various aspects of STEAM are exceedingly important to me, because of that I have worked with my fellow Robotics teammates to help with the creation of the BGC Mobile Makerspace, a Future Lab, and was interviewed for the broadcast on WNDU for National STEM Day. I'm also in the process of creating First Lego League teams at as many St. Joseph County Club sites as possible. All of these accomplishments and goals are heavily rooted in my connection with the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County. They have pushed me not to be better, but the best version of myself. Accordingly, I have been inspired to do the same and continue to assist within this process.

When asked what the Boys & Girls Club meant to me I felt that this question would be difficult to answer. How could such an experience be summed up in just words? It can't, but what can be said is that the club has been in my life for longer than I remember, sometimes it feels normal to have the support that it offers but it is truly a privilege. From my mentors I learned a little kindness is never just a little. From members I learned that I am accepted, represented and wanted. And from myself I learned that the after school club I started as a cry for stability will always be a home, a family and forever a part of me.

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