This is part of the series Shore Stories: Life Along the Lakeshore, columns by local residents about their lives.
The Youth of the Year program, through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, recognizes members for their commitment to their community, good character, and academic achievement.
I have been a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland throughout most of my childhood. Now, as a senior at West Ottawa High School, I was one of the six high school students nominated.
As part of the selection process, we had to write three essays about our club experience, what matters to us, and the obstacles we have overcome. Next, we wrote and memorized a speech based on the essays, then we were interviewed by a panel of three judges.
We met weekly in order to be well-prepared and, after the process was completed, one person would be chosen to represent their Boys & Girls Club in the state competition.
An amazing experience
For me, this was an amazing experience. I built stronger friendships with my fellow nominees and strengthened my relationship with the staff. I was also able to learn a lot about myself, and the program gave me more motivation to work toward my goals.
Winning Youth of the Year was one of my biggest accomplishments. It meant I could use my voice and passion to make a difference in the future of our youth. It meant I could share my story, hoping it would inspire others to find their voice and own their story.
In my speech, I talked about how I faced bullying throughout elementary and middle school as I struggled to learn English, and how I was ashamed of who I was and where I came from.
I also talked about how the club has given me a support system, both academically and mentally. I ended my speech with how I think systemic racism in schools continues to be a problem and that my generation should push for equal educational opportunities.
Embracing the beauty of culture
Though most of my speech was in English, I started off speaking in Spanish and ended in Spanish with the phrase “Porque un pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” which means “a village united will never be defeated.”
I did this because, for so long, I was embarrassed by my language; it was the reason I was bullied and struggled in school. However, once I overcame the shame I felt and the bullying I faced, I realized the beauty of my culture and language.
I used it in my speech because I am no longer ashamed. I am a proud Mexicana and wanted to share how I overcame that obstacle in my life and how it is now one of my greatest strengths.
As I continue on to the state Youth of the Year competition, my focus is not on whether I win the title, but on using my voice to make an impact on others, inspiring them to advocate for themselves and others for positive change.
My participation in a documentary Cynthia Martinez is making about first-generation students
has truly been life-changing. I was excited to share a part of my life because my story is only one of the thousands of such students who are struggling through this pandemic. Nayeli Mora shows off her Youth of the Year award with Cynthia Martinez.
Working on First Voice Generation: The Stories of 1st Gen Latinx has allowed me to show good and bad aspects of my life, so people can see the struggle many first-generation students go through. It also shows our positive emotions for being the first generation to go to college. I can't wait for our voices to be heard.
You can support this project by contributing to the documentary’s Kickstarter campaign.
Donations need to be made by April 20 for the project to move forward.
West Ottawa senior Nayeli Mora is the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland’s 2021 Youth of the Year. She plans to attend college and pursue a career in law.