By Julia Sarcinelli
Sentinel & Enterprise
June 9, 2016
LEOMINSTER — Laura Jenny was named the 2016 Massachusetts Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of America during a ceremony at Westfield State University.
The 17-year-old Leominster High School senior will represent the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, as well as clubs from across the state, when she competes regionally with a chance of competing for the title of National Youth of the Year later this summer.
Jenny, who was the first finalist and award recipient ever to represent the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, was excited about the honor and what it means to her, as well as the chance to represent clubs from across the state.
“The club is my family,” said Jenny, who has been active in the club for nine years. “It’s my second home. I’ve been here since I was 8, and I’m always honored to represent the club because it’s done so much for me. Now that I’m State Youth of the Year, it’s kind of an extension of that, because now I’m representing all of the clubs in the state and all these great kids.”
Jenny is the daughter of Mary and Peter Jenny, and she has a 14-year-old brother, Eric, who has been active in the club for six years.
“I’m very proud of her,” Eric said, “and I think it’s great that someone from our club can be one of the best youth in the entire state.”
The B&G’s Youth of the Year program celebrates achievements of club members ages 14-18 who show leadership, a healthy lifestyle and academic excellence, according to Donata Martin, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
“The staff members and I were very happy that Laura was the first finalist for the club, let alone the first recipient,” said Martin, who added that 37 of the state’s 40 clubs nominated a candidate for the honor.
Teen Center Director Jon Blodgett, one of the staff members who nominated Jenny, said choosing her was easy.
“Laura is always available to volunteer her time, whether it be through fundraisers or by creating different programs,” he said. “Whenever you feel like you don’t have enough time in the day, she coordinates her schedule where she can impact so many different areas. It’s just an amazing feat.”
Along with volunteering at the club, Jenny is a captain of the volleyball team at Leominster High School and has been inducted into the National Honor Society. She plays violin and piano.
For college, she is researching studying humanities or a career in the medical field, which appeals to her interest in math and science.
“Without the club, I would not have been as interested in science or math,” she said, adding that she hopes to find a career that will allow her to “help people for the rest of my life — the staff and volunteers at the club instilled that in me.”
Blodgett said one of the many reasons the nominating committee considered Jenny as the club’s representative is because of the “Juvenile Justice” program she created three years ago.
“I created the program because I was concerned about teaching kids how to interact with police,” she said.
Jenny was inspired by a Strategies for Youth program in Cambridge, and decided to create a program for her club in which kids and teenagers can interact with police officers and lawyers.
Jenny has taught the program at clubs in Springfield and Worcester, at middle schools in Leominster and Fitchburg, and at Leominster High.
Blodgett said Jenny instituting the program at the various clubs and schools “made her really stand out to us.”
“It’s not often that you have a member create and facilitate a program not only in our club but in other clubs,” he added.
As a result of the honor, Jenny will receive $5,000 from the B&G Club of America’s partner, Disney, as well as Toyota, the University of Phoenix and the Taco Bell Foundation; $5,000 from the Myra Kraft “Giving Back Fund,” which is renewable for four years; and $1,000 from the 99 Restaurant and Pub.
Jenny’s next step, said Martin, is a trip to Atlanta for a leadership conference, then the competition for the Regional Youth of the Year honor in August in New York City. If she wins there, Jenny would compete for the National Youth of the Year.
As the State Youth of the Year, Martin said Jenny will have a special dinner with her family at the 99 Restaurant & Pub, speak at the Massachusetts Alliance Advocacy Day, throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Boston Red Sox game and meet Gov. Charlie Baker.
Jenny said winning the award is unbelievable, and she is honored to be a spokesperson for the club that has meant so much to her.
“It turned around my life and so many other people’s lives,” she said. “All over the state and all over the country, there are thousands of clubs helping thousands of kids for years. There’s millions of us who wouldn’t be where we are without the club.”