HOLLAND — West Ottawa senior Nayeli Mora has been named the 2021 Youth of the Year.
The annual honor from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland recognizes area high school students for achievements in the club’s core program areas including academic success, good character and citizenship and healthy lifestyle.
Mora was announced the winner during a ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 23, at Fellowship Reformed Church. The other nominees were Jaylon Grimes, Donna Martinez, Alesha Vandenberge and Gregory Woods III.
“I’m so happy to continue to represent the club, who let me become the best version of myself,” Mora said after being announced the winner. “I want to thank the club for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will forever carry in my heart, and for allowing me to be a part of a diverse home away from home.”
The West Ottawa senior also thanked club staff, her teachers, her family and her fellow nominees, saying they “really are a family” to her.
During the ceremony, each of the nominees gave a speech about their life experiences and what the Boys & Girls Club has meant to them.
Mora spoke about how the club made her feel at home since she was a kid, a time when she was often bullied for her accent and lack of English language skills.
Mora plans to become a lawyer and said today’s youth need to use the tools available to them to combat systemic racism in the American education system.
Vandenberge spoke about how efforts to make sure kids have enough food are important to her. She also said the club helped her be comfortable with who she is and how to overcome when people treat her differently for being a Black child adopted by white parents.
Grimes said it’s gratifying to give back to organizations that have made a difference in his life and said the club helped him develop communication skills while providing father figures.
Martinez spoke about how a toxic relationship led her to consider taking her own life. She said the club and teachers at school helped her to get her self-esteem back, learn to love herself and to use her voice.
Woods discussed his desire to make others feel loved, cared for and like they belong. He said everyone should find a passion and be an advocate for positive change.
More:Youth of the Year to be awarded Tuesday
More:West Ottawa’s Ebony Roach named 2020 Youth of the Year
Although there is only one yearly winner, the club looks at the Youth of the Year program as less of a competition and more of a celebration of all nominees.
This was the 26th year of the Youth of the Year program at the Holland club. Mora, the fourth consecutive winner from West Ottawa High School, goes on to compete at the state level next month.
The judges for this year’s award were Johnny Rodriguez, talent acquisition manager at CSM Services and a member of the club’s Board of Trustees; Gina Johnson, a member of the Western Michigan University fund development team; and 58th District Court Judge Juanita Bocanegra.