Boys and Girls Club builds lasting relationships
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What started as community service for 17-year-old Neal Taylor blossomed into a lifelong friendship.
When Neal was first assigned as mentor for Zane Yates, 11, as he prepared for the first Junior Youth of the Year competition with the Boys and Girls Club, he didn't know what he was getting into.
Not only was he surprised by Zane's intelligence level, he was shocked to learn how much they had in common.
"He likes the blues and R&B music like me," Neal said. "And he's a very outgoing kid."
The Junior Youth of the Year competitors each wrote an essay explaining what the Boys and Girls Club meant to them. Then they presented it to two panels of judges who judged the content of the essay and the poise of the presenters.
The first round of judges come from the Boys and Girls Club, narrowing the competitors down from the six original competitors. The three finalists were judged by a panel of 15 judges who volunteered from local businesses that support the Boys and Girls Club.
"It was a bit tough the first time I went in front of the judges," Zane recalled. "But the second time, I stepped up my game and I won."
Neal advised Zane on which information to include in his essay and helped him organize the content and format.
Zane, a student at Guadalupe Elementary School, has been going to the Boys and Girls Club for about 4 years.
"I switched from the YMCA to the Boys and Girls Club when I was in second grade," Zane said. "I've made a lot of new friends there."
Zane said he especially enjoys playing sports - particularly ping pong - while he hangs out there with his new friends.
"Sometimes, I'll also do art with Ms. Jasmine," Zane said.
While enjoying time with his friends at the club, Zane said he also appreciated "power hour" when he had concentrated time to study.
They do a bunch of things for kids throughout the school year and the summer," Zane said. "It's very fun there. It's just awesome. It's a place where you can be yourself."
Each of the students had a poster that showcased their interests and accomplishments for the guests at the award presentation dinner Tuesday evening.
At a formal dinner at the Victoria College Student Center, Zane was presented with a $250 scholarship - and the title of Junior Youth of the Year.
While working with Zane, Neal said he was also challenged on a personal level.
"Zane was really impressive - he is only 11, and he already has goals for his future," Neal said.
Zane wants to become an architect, play basketball for Syracuse, or football for Oregon's football team.
"When he get's older, I told him I want him to remember me," Neal said. "He's gonna be something big."