West Ottawa senior Nayeli Mora knows life doesn’t come without challenges, but the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland has given her the tools to find her voice and face whatever challenges may come.
She won the Michigan Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year with that message, and next month she will take it to the Midwest regional competition. If she were to win there, Nayeli will move on to the national competition later this year. Most of the competitions have been virtual due to COVID-19 precautions.
Each competition includes two rounds of interviews and a speech.
'Un pueblo unido'
Nayeli, 17, concludes her speech like this: “I realize that there will be challenges associated with being a first-generation college student, but the Club has instilled in me the confidence to overcome challenges and be an advocate for myself and others. I will continue to use my voice as a tool to motivate others to advocate for themselves. Porque un pueblo unido jamás será vencido. (Because a united people will never be defeated.)”
Each level comes with a scholarship, “which is really awesome, because I need them,” she says.
Nayeli plans to attend Grand Valley State University in the fall and major in political science and Spanish on her way to becoming a corporate immigration lawyer.
Although Nayeli was born in the U.S., she spent much of her early youth in Mexico.
Her biggest inspiration
She dedicated the speech to her mom who is her biggest inspiration.
“She has taught me so many lessons in life that I apply during Youth of the Year,” Nayeli says. “She’s the reason why I’m doing this; she’s the reason why I’m doing this the way I’m doing this.”
After her mother became a U.S. citizen, she began the long process to bring her own parents to the States. Nayeli tagged along on a lot of meetings with immigration attorneys.
Seeing how difficult the process was, how much her own family struggled, and how little Latino representation there was in the field made Nayeli determined at a young age to make it her career.
“I know the story. I know the struggle,” she says.
Advocate and motivator
She sees herself as an advocate, a motivator of others, and an effective speaker.
So does Craig Spoelhof, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland. While some would merely have seen the struggle as a personal one. Nayeli saw how her family struggled through the immigration process or with bullying, and she wanted to help others she saw struggling in the same way.
Each local club nominates a handful of members for Youth of the Year. The nominees meet weekly throughout the school year. They prepare with mock interviews and other activities to help them get ready for the competition. She won the local competition in February.
A staff who cares
“If there was one place where I never struggled to just be me and say what I felt, the Club was that place,” she says in her competition speech.
For many years, Nayeli was bullied at school for her accent or the lunches her mom would pack. But it was never like that at the Boys and Girls Club.
She isn’t the only one. The Boys and Girls Club has been home base for thousands of kids in the Holland area over the years.
“It comes down to our staff and how they set expectations,” Spoelhof says. “First of all, you walk through these doors, and you are a member of your club. … we are going to do everything we can to help you be successful. Whatever that means to you.”
It isn’t always easy, he says. This year, especially, kids are on edge. The staff’s focus has been twofold: social/emotional and mental health in addition to academics, Spoelhof says.
“It’s a combination of a staff that welcomes with open arms, but has expectations and has the skill set to de-escalate, redirect, and correct when needed,” Spoelhof says. “Kids have their radar — ‘do you really care about me?’ — and our staff cares.”
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