Jaquelin Romero choked up when telling the crowd at Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland about her father being deported to Mexico when she was 3 years old and about his death when she was 13.
“As a young girl without her father, I didn’t realize how much of my life he would miss out on,” she managed to tell the crowd gathered for the club’s Youth of the Year awards ceremony. “In the years leading up to his death, I held onto a lot of anger and resentment. When he passed away, I realized more time isn’t guaranteed, and anger and resentment were two things I didn’t want in my jar.”
Holland’s Boys & Girls Club named Romero its 2022 Youth of the Year last week. She will represent the club at the state competition in April.
Holland's Nayeli Mora, with an anti-bullying
platform, was the 2021 Michigan Youth of the Year
Each nominee chooses a personal brand to represent them. Romero’s brand was the jar. “A jar can hold anything you need it to,” she says. “You are the jar. You hold all of these emotions and things that you do.”
She was one of six finalists for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland 2022 Youth of the Year honor. Jaelin Holtsclaw (West Ottawa High School), Luis Vasquez (Holland’s VR Tech), Dulce Salazar (West Ottawa), Jamila Qurban Ali (Holland High School), and Jaquelin Barajas (West Ottawa) also participated in the months-long program.
The Youth of the Year program honors and celebrates the club’s most inspiring teens and their incredible journeys. Through the program, honorees showcase their talents and achievements, share their hopes and dreams, and work toward a bright future.
The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland 2022 Youth of the Year nominees are pictured with the Club's Senior Area Director Mary Carrizales (back row, center).
“They are nominated because the staff views them as leaders within the club,” says Senior Area Director Mary Carrizales.
Club employees look for members who are leaders, advocates, and motivators, as well as good listeners, she says.
The nominees meet weekly, starting in September. They develop their platforms and create their personal brands. Each nominee also writes a series of essays, including what the club has meant to them, and works on their public speaking skills.
They spend more than 200 hours together as a group, and more individually, honing those foundational skills for life — interview and writing skills that will help them enter college or obtain scholarships.
“They (now) understand the work that it takes to get to that level,” Carrizales says.
Each nominee presented his or her speech during the ceremony last week. It’s their chance to show their loved ones what they have been working on for the past several months.
“It allows them to see their child in a new light,” Carrizales says.
Romero saw her older sister struggle in school after their father died and saw the lack of resources for students from low-income families.
“Children from low-income families have to beat the odds to get a college degree,” Romero said in her speech.
She joined the Student Senate at Holland High School, where she is a sophomore, in part, to help improve relations between teachers and students and to advocate for students from low-income families.
Romero first joined the Boys & Girls Club when she was in the first grade. Her mother was working three jobs to support the family and needed the after-school care the club provided.
Romero plans to become a pediatric surgeon.
“I’ve always wanted to be a surgeon,” Romero says. “And I love kids. They’re amazing.”
Jaquelin Romero poses with her portrait before the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland's Youth of the Year ceremony.
She dreams of one day being able to tell a parent that their child’s surgery was a success, and they are going to be OK.
Romero plans to spend her senior year at Careerline Tech Center in the EMT program to get a jump on her medical training. From there, she plans to attend Johns Hopkins University. “Yeah. Big dreams,” Romero says.
“A jar can store anything you need it to,” she says. “For a long time, I had things I didn’t like in my jar. Now I hold inspiration, motivation, and creativity. I want to use these things for good to help others in any way I can. I will be a kid who beats the odds.”