Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley Celebrates its Youth of the Year
Baljot Chahal was bullied in elementary and middle school and turned away by other kids at recess.
She was weak, said the girl from a deeply traditional east Indian family. Overweight. And painfully shy. She wasn’t normal. Then came a bold about-face at the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley.
“The club eventually became my savior,” said Chahal, 17, of Reseda, now president of her senior class at Cleveland Charter High School. “Being a part of the Boys & Girls Club has made me a very strong woman, whose voice is no longer silenced.
“I no longer feel I need to hide behind my shadow, or feel bad for being me.”
Chahal was named Youth of the Year on Saturday during the 2017 Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley Youth of the Year Luncheon, presented by Farmers Insurance, at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills.
Eight other teens and preteens from across the San Fernando Valley were also honored.
They represent the hopes and dreams of thousands of kids who flock to the clubs after school each afternoon for homework help, gym sports, college prep and fun programs meant to ramp them up to a better future.
The Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, is based in a former mortuary in Canoga Park with a new teen center and satellites at six local schools. It serves nearly 3,000 mostly needy children.
Eighty-one percent live in poverty; 37 percent have single moms or dads.
Through the support of the club, its Youth of the Year finalists testified, they’re now happy kids. Hopeful kids. Helpful kids. And proud kids celebrating promising futures.
“They’ve demonstrated the ability to go from adversity to success, from near-failure to great achievement,” said Martin M. Cooper, chairman of the Boys & Girls Club, during a two-hour banquet. “We give hope to young people, that’s what we do.”
The club at 7245 Remmet Avenue just replaced its longtime leader, Jan Sobel, who retired in December.
When Sobel took the reins of the Boys & Girls Club a decade ago, it was nearly broke trying to help 800 kids. The $1.6 million nonprofit now serves 2,725 children across the west San Fernando Valley.
Tim Blaylock, who has been associated with Boys & Girls clubs for nearly 30 years, on March 1 was named the West Valley’s new president and CEO. He had last run a club based in Oxnard.
“I’ve come to a lot of Youth of the Year events throughout the years, but this one is really special,” he said. “I’m inspired by all I’ve heard here today.”
Those who spoke included three finalists for 2017 Youth of the Year: Evelyn Rosemary Romero of Chatsworth Charter High School; Jose Anguiano of Canoga Park High School; and Jonathan Aldana, also of Canoga High. Each received $250.
They also included five younger honorees: Caitlin Torres, 13; Kaden Mayfield, 11; Esmeralda Garcia, 10; Eliana Captol, 13; and Jhonny Solis, 10.
“ ‘People like me don’t dream,’ something I’ve heard my mom say, time and time again,” said Romero, whose single mom from El Salvador worked two jobs to get by and couldn’t attend her school functions. “This program his given me hope … to see my mom in the audience at my college graduation. To know that my dreams can come true.”
The luncheon drew more than 100 Valley business leaders and elected officials, including state Sen. Henry Stern, Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, Councilman Bob Blumenfield and LAUSD Board Member Scott Schmerelson. Each gave ovation after ovation for the kids.
“You guys help inspire me,” Blumenfield said. “There is a lot going on in politics that makes me cynical and concerned. But coming here makes me feel recharged.”
Chahal, whose parents emigrated from Punjab Province, said she struggled to be a submissive female in a misogynistic culture —and never to speak of her own desires.
But after the bookish teen immersed herself in the Boys & Girls Club, she became secretary of its leadership program, as well as a mentor for other kids. She also volunteered in the community cleaning beaches, planting trees, feeding the homeless and harvesting surplus fruit for the poor.
The member of the club’s College Bound program has also been accepted at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she will major in medicine. The Boys & Girls Club gave its Youth of the Year $2,000.
“I want other kids to know that they can be extraordinary,” said Chahal, with a winning smile and long black hair. “Just like me.”
Source: Los Angeles Daily News