By Amanda Roberge
The Worcester Telegram
June 24, 2016
LEOMINSTER – When asked to nominate a member of the club to compete at the state level with other Youth of the Year winners from their respective clubs, the leaders at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster didn’t hesitate.
A regular at the club since she was 8, Leominster High School incoming senior Laura Jenny, 17, was an obvious choice – but perhaps the reasons were not obvious.
There is no question that she is a poised and intelligent young woman, but for her to win the Massachusetts State Youth of the Year title, which Ms. Jenny now holds following a competition in Western Massachusetts during the first weekend of June, judges must have seen something more.
During the extensive interview process, Ms. Jenny deferred questions about herself in order to promote her local Boys & Girls Club.
“I didn’t want to focus on myself,” she said. “I would rather talk about the club, and how great the staff and the kids are, and all the amazing things we do.”
Her wholehearted devotion to the organization that has been a second home for her and her brother impressed the judges. And she took top honors at the competition. Not surprisingly, when her name was called, some of the Boys & Girls Club staff from her hometown were there to celebrate the victory.
“I’m shocked she didn’t invite everyone in the room up onto the stage,” joked Teen Center Director Jon Blodgett. “She kept saying how everyone there deserved to win, praising everyone else in the rest of the group. It was very true to who she is, to not want to have the spotlight and to make everyone else feel included and deserving.”
Ms. Jenny credits the club with helping her to grow into a truly empathetic person, who cares about helping others as a top priority.According to club Unit Director Rocco Spagnuolo, she constantly strives to make others at the club feel welcome, engaged and comfortable.
“Being a part of the club has given me so much,” Ms. Jenny said, adding that she strives each and every day to be a positive role model to other kids. “It has made a huge impact on my life, and it’s very clear to me that this is what I want to do with my life – help other people.”
Ms. Jenny will go on to compete in a Regional Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year competition in August, and the winner of that competition will vie for the National title.
As the Massachusetts Youth of the Year, Ms. Jenny was awarded a $20,000 college scholarship from the Myra Kraft “Giving Back Fund,” a $5,000 scholarship from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America partners Disney, Toyota, University of Phoenix and the Taco Bell Foundation, a $1,000 scholarship from Ninety-Nine Restaurants, and a new Dell laptop from COMCAST.
All of these awards will be a huge help, she said, when she goes to college.
But for now, the perks of the title will include attending a leadership building conference hosted by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in Atlanta in mid-July, speaking at the Statehouse for the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker, and throwing the first pitch at a baseball game at Fenway Park.
While she has yet to decide the theme of her speech at the Statehouse, she knows for sure that she has one topic on her mind.
“I will always be a huge advocate for the club,” she said. “There are millions of kids who wouldn’t be who they are today without the Boys & Girls Club.”