Business leaders celebrate youth of the year at Boys and Girls Club event

by Nancy Peevy ( 49 views 

The Coca Cola bear greeted guests at the Benton County Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year event.

The Boys and Girls Club of Benton County (BGCBC) helps the 3,800 children they serve to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.

On Thursday (Mar. 8), 800 club members and community leaders celebrated the best and brightest of those children at their Youth of the Year event at John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers. According to the organization, the Youth of the Year program “helps to shape tomorrow’s leaders by fostering character and leadership development…, starting them on a path to great futures.”

The BGCBC “serves school-aged children in the NWA area, providing out-of-school youth development and family support programs, which support in-school learning, promote health and wellness, develop honorable character and leadership and mediate emergent family needs,” according to their website. Clubs are located in Pea Ridge, Bella Vista, Rogers and Bentonville.

In his keynote address during the event, Keith Jackson, former NFL player and broadcast analyst, challenged each person to give generously to those around them and ask “why not me?” Jackson shared his story of being the first African American philanthropist to receive the Little Rock Rotary Club’s Business Person of the Year Award. He said that in his acceptance speech he asked “why not me?” instead of “why me”.

On Thursday Jackson urged those in the crowd to do the same.

“Why don’t you do something so great, so awesome, give back to your community so well that one day, when someone gives you an award, you can say, ‘I lived my whole life, I pushed myself to the limit to make my community better, so now they want to give me an award? Why not me?’” Jackson said.

Silvia Azrai Kawas (far left) and Marybeth Hays (far right) celebrate with two Boys and Girls Club members after being presented with the Olympic torch at the Youth of the Year event. The theme for the evening was “Fire From Within” and the room was decorated in an Olympics theme.

“I challenge you to do something special, do something important in a kid’s life to make such a difference that one of those kids will one day get up in front of a crowd and say, If it wasn’t for the people in Benton County that (poured) into me, not only financially, but physically and spiritually, and (poured) knowledge inside me, I would not be standing here today,” he said.

Jackson then introduced last year’s BGCBC Youth of the Year, Fernanda Alcantara, who became one of six finalists at the national 2017 Youth of the Year competition. The Youth of the Year is the highest honor a Boys and Girls Club member can achieve. The winner is chosen because they have overcome personal challenges and shown “outstanding leadership, academic excellence and dedication to making healthy life choices.”

Alcantara then recognized the 2018 BGCBC Youth of the Year, Imana Junior. Junior shared her story of nearly being homeless after her mother lost her job and of being left out and bullied at a new school. But, with the help of the BGCBC she realized she needed to be proactive in reaching out to others and helping them.

Boys and Girls Club members from the Bentonville Teen Center stand with their teen director, Bryan Collom.

“Through the Boys and Girls club, I am empowered to be a positive influence on all club members every day,” Junior said. “The club has developed me into a leader who’s not afraid to be vibrant, charismatic and outgoing. … I am Amana Junior…and I am here to make the change the youth of America need to see.”

Marybeth Hays, executive vice president, consumables, health & wellness, Walmart U.S.; and Silvia Azrai Kawas, vice president, district market manager dry grocery-meals, sauces & specialty, Walmart U.S. merchandising, participated as master of ceremonies. Unilever was the presenting sponsor for the event. Other sponsors included Hershey, General Mills, Intradeco Apparel, Johnson & Johnson, Mobil 1, Nestle, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Coca Cola, Saputo, Reynolds Consumer Products, Walmart and Sam’s Club.