By Grace Bennett, Photos by Kat McKee
Emphasizing the importance of tolerance and respect for diversity, Nethmi DeSilva, a sophomore at Fox Lane High School, accepted a Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester “Youth of the Year Award” during a warm and festive reception at Crabtree’s Kittle House.
DeSilva, who has been coming to BGCNW since preschool (when her mom worked there as a nursery school teacher), described her early years as feeling easily frightened and overwhelmed. “Being comfortable in my own skin was a struggle for me. At school I was quiet and I never talked much unless I was with my friends. I would always want to participate in class, but feel too nervous.”
The Club, Nethmi related, “helped me realize my full potential, and embrace my leadership skills.”
At the Teen Center program at the Club, Nethmi said she learned public speaking skills with the help of the teen center staff. “I gained confidence in myself and stepped out my comfort zone…I found myself doing things that I never thought I was capable of. I was voicing my opinion, leading community projects, and taking on leadership roles in my club, but also in school. I now, can confidently take a stand on issues that are important to me–one of which being tolerance and respect among all diversities.
“We are fortunate to live in a multicultural nation, and still, discrimination exists. It’s important for our youth to tolerate and respect the differences of others. As Boys and Girls Club members we are privileged to have a program such as “Youth for Unity,” which teaches us how to deal with diversity. I hope that programs like this will keep being reinforced in young people’s lives whether at organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club or even in schools. In the words of Helen Keller “the highest result of education is tolerance.”
In other awards, Cameron Rosen, a senior at Fox Lane, received the “Chris Cutri award,” “which recognizes positive attitude, perseverance, strength, kindness, integrity and sportsmanship.
The Youth of the Year Finalists were Cristy Lopez-Duarte, a Fox Lane senior too, and Lillian Chang, a Fox Lane Junior.
Boys and Girls Club staff and board members and family and friends all gathered April 30th offering a hefty dose of love and support for all the honorees. Area VIPs were in attendance too! Pictured below are Joel Seligman, president and CEO of Northern Westchester Hospital, and his wife, Joyce. Martha Stewart, a long time supporter of BGCNW, took time out for photo ops, including the one below with Nethmi and Muffin Dowdle, a long time, beloved Boys and Girls Club board member.
Participants are chosen on local and state levels, “culminating with the regional winners meeting in Washington D.C., to compete for the National Youth of the Year honor. Since the program’s inception in 1947, each National Youth of the Year has met with the President of the United States to formally accept the award and begin a one-year term as the teen spokesperson for all Boys and Girls Club members.