Brattleboro Boys and Girls Club: Vargas named 2018 Youth of the Year

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BRATTLEBORO — Sixteen-year-old Danaysa Vargas was chosen Thursday night as Brattleboro's nominee for the state's Youth of the Year competition, sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club.

The Boys and Girls Club, at 17 Flat St., has been participating in the Youth of the Year contest for 14 years. Five of their club members have gone on to become state Youth of the Year. This year, the three candidates — 17-year-old Zachary Buckley-Dunbar, 18-year-old Mitchell Flood, and Vargas — challenged the judges, who deliberated all day Thursday, Feb. 8, trying to decide who to choose.

This year, the panel consisted of Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell, Torin Koester, the managing trustee of McKenzie Family Charitable Trust, and Connie Snow, the director of the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust. All three nominees are students at Brattleboro Union High School and are members of the Keystone Club (a community service club). All three also serve as mentors to younger club members and all three said they chose to participate in Youth of the Year as a way to get ahead.

Youth of the Year candidates are nominated by Boys and Girls Club staff and volunteers. "It's kids who participate in programs and activities and show themselves to be good role models," said Ricky Davidson, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Brattleboro, Thursday night.

Matthew Gordon-Macey was named The Boys and Girls Club of Brattleboro 2018 Jr. Youth of the Year. Gordon-Macey is in the seventh grade at Brattleboro Area Middle School. "A confident public speaker, Matthew credits The Club with helping him come out of his shell and feeling comfortable talking to all kinds of people," said Davidson.

In April, Gordon-Macey will accompany Vargas to Montpelier, get a tour of the capital, meet the governor, and watch as Vargas competes for the title of State of Vermont Youth of the Year. the winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship.

Once a member is nominated for Youth of the Year, they must write three essays, get letters of support, and have their grades reviewed by a panel of judges. Then they meet with the judges and give a speech about what they would do if they were Youth of the Year. As winner, Vargas received a $500 scholarship.

Vargas said when she joined the club she wanted to go somewhere where people wouldn't talk to her. She was quiet and was tired of being made to talk. The Boys and Girls Club helped her come out of her shell. She said she made good connections there. In fourth grade, Vargas found out that her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she'd only have one more year left with her. "No matter what I was going through the club has always been there for me," she said.

The Boys and Girls Club taught her a different way to deal with life, she said. "My vision for America's youth is that we can be there for each other and not tear each other down."

Vargas said she wanted to be able to enact change. She wants to speak for the voiceless. "Hate is learned not inherited," she said.

Derick Harnish, who was the 2017 Youth of the Year in Brattleboro and for the state of Vermont, said it took him four tries before he finally ended up winning.

"Hearing Youth of the Year is just awesome," he said on Thursday. "In the end, even though I didn't win being a part of it was a privilege."

Eventually, Harnish did win. He got to meet Governor Phil Scott at the state competition. Then he traveled to New York City for the regional competition. During his speech at the 2018 event, he reminded candidates that it was an honor just to be nominated.

"Every single candidate is extraordinary," said Harnish. "Every single one of these people is Youth of the Year to somebody."

Buckley-Dunbar said he participated in Youth of the Year for his family. He thought the scholarship money would help him go to college, and ease the burden on his family. He also thought it would look good on an application.

"It shows that I'm a hard worker," he said. He thinks he was nominated because of his eagerness to do more at the club. "I wanted to help clean the bathrooms and help mop or something," he said of when he first joined the club.

In his speech, Buckley-Dunbar revealed that he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was 5 years old. He had to learn that, "To get to the fun stuff you have to get through the boring stuff first." Buckley-Dunbar's speech talked about his development of work ethic. His dream, he said, is to someday open up a food truck. He wants to call the food,"smile-bringing food."

Flood spoke about his relationship with the Boys and Girls Club. He loved it so much that he became a junior staff member. "At first my peers made fun of me for working at the club. They told me it wasn't a real job." For him it was, and it was a job that made him happy. Flood especially enjoys getting to work with younger members of Kids Club (a club for 5- to 10-year-olds). He also serves as Vice President of the Keystone Club and balances his club work, school and home responsibilities.

"I just wanted to make a difference within the Boys and Girls Club," Flood said. "This is my family. This is my extended family." Winning Youth of the Year, he said, will give him more reputation capital that he thinks will help him make a larger difference. "I've always worked hard for what I've wanted in life," he said. "Winning Youth of the Year will prove it was worth it."

Peter Case from WKVT, who always serves as the events MC, said he was floored every year by the youths. He complimented all three candidates and the work that Boys and Girls Club does.

"When you walk through that door you're molding yourself to be a better human being," he said.

"Danaysa is the perfect example of what a Youth of the Year should be, but she is also someone who is really going to make a positive impact on the world," said Davidson. "I believe all of our members have the potential to go somewhere and make a real difference, but I know Danaysa will make a real impact. I look forward to the day when I can say I knew her when ..."

The Vermont state winner will travel in the summer to New York City for the Northeast Region Youth of the Year and the chance for an additional $10,000 scholarship. The

five regional winners advance to Washington, D.C., in September to compete for the title of BGCA's National Youth of the Year. The National Youth of the Year receives an additional $15,000 college scholarship and is installed by the President in an Oval Office ceremony.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.


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