By Jordan Tillery
Sentinel & Enterprise
April 25, 2016
Nearly 50 students gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster to attend the annual Youth Empowerment Summit, organized by LUK Mentoring, the Boys & Girls Club and Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D Early Jr.’s office.
“We want to show the kids that they’re capable of anything,” said Najid Figueroa, youth development coordinator for LUK.
The theme of Saturday’s event, which was open to students between the ages of 13 and 18, was “I Create My Own Future” — a message echoed by panelists and keynote speaker Emy Vazquez, pastor of the Lancaster Excel Church.
“You can do whatever you want to do, as long as you live your life,” said Fitchburg High senior Skyler Robinson. “Even if at times things are a little rough, that’s not your final destination, you’re going to go on to something better no matter what.”
Which is exactly what he has done. Robinson spoke about his past after being taken from his biological parents as a child and bounced around between foster families before he landed in Fitchburg.
Now he’s deciding where he wants to go to college, he told the crowd. He was accepted to six schools including Columbia University in New York, Boston University, Northeastern University and Fitchburg State University, among others, he said.
He was one of three panelists — the others were LUK mentor Natasha Clark and Juan Rivera, owner of Thumbs Up Barber Shop in Leominster — who discussed their paths to success and plans for the future.
Rivera urged the audience to “stay focused and climb every obstacle.”
The most important message Kaitlyn Herr, 13, of Gardner, learned during the morning speaker session was to “always invest in your future,” she said.
For Kiarah Moore, 13, it was to “follow your own path,” she said.
Fitchburg State student Jamie Moore, who mentors with LUK, said she was inspired by Vazquez’s keynote speech.
“He said you can struggle and still make it out on top, I thought that was really empowering,” she said. “It’s all about who you surround yourself with.”
Part of the full-day of activities was the presentation of $1,500 worth of scholarships to four recipients who showed academic excellence and leadership in their community, Figueroa said.
Vazquez presented $500 to two local seniors in attendance — Leominster High School student Gil Carta and Rachel Sazonick of Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.
Christopher Bond and Jennifer Brown, of the Sizer School in Fitchburg, were not in attendance, but were also scholarship recipients.
The day ended with workshops in which students had the opportunity to interact with working professionals in the community, including a cosmetologist, barber and artist.