Each year, the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau showcases an exemplary youth who is a member of the club at the club’s most visible event: its hall of fame induction ceremony.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic forced the hall of fame dinner to be canceled — which meant this year’s Youth of the Year had the spotlight taken away from them. But that didn’t stop the club’s CPO, Justin Sharpe, and his staff from recognizing a youth, and this week Sharpe introduced that club member — Carina Caldwell — to the community.
Boys & Girls Clubs across America have recognized its members through the Youth of the Year program since 1947. The member honored embodies values of leadership, service, academic excellence and healthy lifestyles. From the local level, they progress through state and regional events, culminating with a weeklong celebration in Washington, D.C., where one of them is named the national Youth of the Year. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a member of the Boys & Girls Club.
Sharpe said Caldwell has blossomed in the BGC program.
“Carina has been coming to our Boys & Girls Club for a little over a year now,” he said. “When she first came to us she was shy, withdrawn, and angry at the world. She had every right to be. She and her sisters had been moved from foster home to foster home and ultimately split up between different homes when Carina came to Scott County.”
Caldwell had been her younger sisters’ primary caretaker for several years. At the BGC, she has had an opportunity to be an ordinary young person and discover her strengths.
“It has been a joy to watch her grow, come out of her shell, and take full advantage of the hope and opportunity the Boys & Girls Club has to offer,” Sharpe said. “She has become a leader at the club and she always supports her peers. Her smile, calm presence and sense of humor make her somone that people want to be around, especailly the other teens at the club.”
Following is a part of Carina Caldwell’s interview after being named the BGC’s Youth of the Year:
Tell us what the club means to you and how it has helped you in your life.
Carina: When I first moved here to Scott County through the foster care system I had given up on feeling normal. I wanted to hate everybody and not make any new friends since I had moved around so much, but Boys & Girls Club helped me make friends and moreover find a family here at the club.
How has the club helped you achieve your goals?
Carina: Boys & Girls Club has helped me plan out my future better and allowed me to have real world experience running a business with our Snack Shack program. I’ve been in charge of money, cleaning, and restocking. CareerLaunch and the teen staff have helped me decide what I want to be in the future and how to prepare for it.
What staff member at the club has made the greatest impact on you and why?
Carina: Miss Vickie has showed me how much one person can make a huge difference in our community and this world. She listens and cares for everybody. You can always count on her to be there for you when you need her.
When you talk about the club to your peers, how do you describe it?
Carina: Boys & Girls Club is the place I love going to see my friends and play sports. It’s fun but you also learn a lot.
What goals do you have for your future, and how will you achieve them?
Carina: I am planning to be a videographer and I’m working hard to earn a scholarship for college. I want to help people and videographers get to catch people at their happiest moments. I want to be able to capture that on film and be happy at my job.
What issue or topic are you passionate about and why?
Carina: Drug awareness. So many people are affected by drugs. I’m passionate about foster care kids. People normally start drugs young and never think of how it will affect those around them or their future kids.
What skills or talents are needed to effectively serve the community as a youth advocate?
Carina: You have to be positive and always have a smile. You can’t change anything if you are negative. Show people how happy you can be and it will make a lot more of a difference.
What problems in your life or community seem unfair and how would you go about affecting a change?
Carina: It seems that most of our foster kids are here because of drug abuse or poor choices by a parent or family member. Parents don’t consider how it affects their kids. Some of these kids feel alone and don’t realize the difference they can make on the world. I want to tell them they are not alone and can do better; their past is not their future. They can turn a negative into something positive.
How would someone describe you if they only knew you outside of the Club or from social media?
Carina: I’m a honest, loyal, trustworthy, kind, and caring person. I’m always trying to help others. Even if I’m mad or having a bad day I want to help people. I want to be there for them, to understand them, and not judge them.
Describe yourself as a leader.
Carina: I want people to be able to express their opinions and not be left out. I want everyone’s voice to be heard and lead them to complete a project on time and on point. I want our projects to be the best they can be.
What does good character mean to you?
Carina: People need to have a positive attitude, be honest, loyal, and caring. No matter who it is I think you should always be caring for them because the littlest things can make a difference to someone.
Tell us about a time when you’ve had to overcome an obstacle to achieve a goal.
Carina: During my time in foster care I have had to move to so many schools and homes. It was difficult to keep my grades up. While moving schools it was hard making friends. It was a lot to carry on my shoulders. You learn that some difficult things that you go through will make life better. You meet new people and you learn new things. You just have to keep going. Eventually I made friends everywhere.
Can you tell us about a situation that has helped you grow as a person and what you have learned from that?
Carina: Foster care and Boys & Girls Club has taught me no matter what you go through you can always do better, help other people, and stand up to be a voice for others. After moving so many schools, you learn that some people stay and some people go, but life goes on. Your past isn’t your future, you are your future.
What advice have you given to someone you saw struggling with a challenge?
Carina: Never give up. Keep going. Don’t focus on the past, focus on the future. So many people get stuck in the past. Make your own future.
Who played a major role in your academic success? How?
Carina: My grandmother wasn’t always strict on grades. She wanted me to be the best I could be and I always wanted to bring home A’s and B’s to make her proud.
How will you use your education to advance your goals?
Carina: I want to get a scholarship. With foster care you are automatically guaranteed 2 years, but I want to earn my own scholarship with my grades and prove that I can do it just as well as anyone else.
What do you like most about school? What would you like to see changed?
Carina: I like meeting new people and making new friends. After all of the schools I’ve moved to that’s the most I appreciate. I wish everyone could be more open, understanding, and appreciative. I would like to bring all the different groups together to be better friends.
Who is a leader you admire and why?
Carina: Mr. Chase is the leader I admire. He always make sure every kid is included. He is competitive, but nice. He always gives every kid a chance to win and is very supportive.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Carina: I am a very straightforward leader. I’m honest, open, and supportive. I don’t want to leave anyone out. I want to hear everyone’s opinion, but I also want to keep them on track.
Give an example of a time when you were unsuccessful at managing multiple projects or activities. What would you do differently?
Carina: As I moved schools I began to feel like my grades didn’t matter. I didn’t see the point in it. I thought I was just trying to keep my grades up for everybody else. If I could go back I would want to change the way I thought about that because it affects my future. I realized I can make a really big difference if I just keep my head up.