Jaquelin Barajas — mentor to many — is Michigan Youth of the Year

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland is again home to the Michigan Youth of the Year.

Jaquelin Barajas was named the Michigan Youth of the Year in Lansing on Wednesday, April 17, earning a $5,000 scholarship. She will compete for the Midwest Regional Youth of the Year in Chicago June 27. 

“We’ve had a good run the past couple of years. We are so proud of them,” says Justin Caserta, director of the BGCGH’s college and career readiness program EPIC and Barajas’ mentor.

CourtesyJaqulin Barajas receiving the Michigan Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year award marks the second year running the local club nominee has taken the top honor.

Last year, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland Youth of the Year Isabel Shepard won the state and regional awards and was a finalist for the national prize, and in 2021 Nayeli Mora was the Youth of the Year for Holland and the state.

Senator Barajas

Barajas, 17, is a senior at West Ottawa. After graduation, she plans to attend Michigan State University to study public policy and minor in social science. 

“The biggest goal is to become a senator,” Barajas says, adding before that happens she “plan(s) to be in a city hall one day, creating policies that help people.”

Her tenacity and altruism are what are going to get her there, Barajas says.

“I love working with others,” she says. “I am also passionate about the work I do.”

Barajas grew up in an abusive household, she says.

“Throughout the years, I would do everything to try not to come home. That’s how I got involved in the Boys and Girls Club. That was my home,” Barajas says. “No matter the bad things that happen, no matter the good things, I have no regrets, because they made me the woman I am today.”

CourtesyMichigan Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year Jaqulin Barajas participates in many local Boys and Girls Club events as well as other mentoring programs.

Barajas has been a Boys and Girls Club of Holland member for eight years. She is a mentor to middle and elementary school students in the Partners with a Purpose program, a member of the West Ottawa Student Senate, and the Holland Youth Advisory Council where she is the chairwoman of the environmental committee and vice chair of the social services committee. She is also a junior staff member at the club. She was previously nominated for Holland Youth of the Year in 2022.

“Everything I learn, I get to take it to the city hall, I get to take it to the mayor,” she says.

This year’s other nominees were Dulce Salazar, Miguel Mendoza, Ricardo Rodriguez, April Fuentes, and Madison Moore — all West Ottawa High School students.

Each Youth of the Year nominee creates a personal brand. Barajas’ brand is diversity and multiculturalism in education. Growing up in a predominantly white school with few people who reflected her Hisapnic heritage, made her feel othered, Barajas says.

“You are either a celebrity or a nobody,” she says. “Becoming a mentor, going to elementary students, you realize how important it is to be recognized”

CourtesyMichigan Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year Jaqulin Barajas will compete in the regional event in Chicago June 27.
Role model

“She really is like a role model and a mentor to a lot of the younger members. She’s really an advocate for the younger teens to get involved in some of the programming that could benefit them,” Caserta says. “The culmination of all of those things, really make her a leader and someone who people who come to the club aspire to be like.”

EPIC is a mentorship program that starts in the eighth grade and continues through college and trade school education. It supports members with scholarships, college visits, college application help, volunteer opportunities, career advice, and unique educational events.

Many of the EPIC participants are also first generation potential college students, Caserta says — “She’s laid out a road map for them: How putting your best foot forward can lead to good results.”
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