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Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County names Kaliyah Stephens as 2024 Youth of the Year

Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County honored Kaliyah Stephens, an eighth-grader at Crestwell School in Fort Myers, as its 2024 Youth of the Year.

The annual award recognizes one local club member who exemplifies the virtues of good character, academic excellence, community service and strong leadership.

A club member since 2022, Kaliyah was among four finalists vying for Youth of the Year. Finalists completed essays as part of the application process, and each had to deliver a speech in front of family members, club staff and community leaders. All finalists then participated in an interview with a distinguished panel of judges at the Youth of the Year celebration, which was held Feb. 17 at the Park Meadows Community Club in Fort Myers.

“I thought to myself, this is it… I did it!” Kaliyah said after being named the 2024 Youth of the Year. “I was so proud of myself. It is such an honor and it means that I’ve progressed, and I’m getting better every step of the way.”

Kaliyah, who participates in the After-school Program and Summer Enrichment Program at Park Meadows, brought her mother, brother, two aunts and two cousins to the Youth of the Year event. For the next year, she will serve as an ambassador for Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County and will appear at community and club events.

“She started out really shy and lacked confidence,” said Denise Gergley, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County. “Her growth over the last couple of years has been outstanding. She is confident and ready to take on the world, taking on leadership roles in the club, participating in Odyssey of the Mind, Drama Matters and so much more.”

Despite being only an eighth grader, Kaliyah already is recognized as a role model for younger club members and regularly hosts conversations to motivate and inspire elementary and middle school students.

“They can do anything they put their mind to,” Kaliyah said. “As long as they practice, they can progress.”

Kaliyah is eligible to compete in a statewide Youth of the Year competition this spring and will receive a $2,500 college scholarship courtesy of Lake Michigan Credit Union (LCMU), which was the local awards program sponsor.

Finalists for Youth of the Year included Ryan Mejias (Pueblo Bonito Neighborhood Club), Angel Ortiz (Lehigh Acres Community Club) and Joshua Hernandez (Pueblo Bonito Neighborhood Club). Junior Youth of the Year honorees included D’Kursha Stanley, Ulises Gonzalez, Javaya Carter, Ashley Garcia and Nathaniel Rivera.

This year’s panel of judges included Brian Rist (founder of Storm Smart Companies/Rist Family Foundation), Nanette Dean (president of Dean Steel Buildings), Bill Turner (district manager for Lake Michigan Credit Union) and Mark Loren (owner of Mark Loren Designs). Mentors who supported Youth of the Year candidates included Peter Nguyen, Cindy Cedeno, Harlan Parrish, Kathryn Stefanski and Joseph Restino.

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