Honoring Empowerment

Boys & Girls Club names Youth of the Year

MILFORD – The cheering was loud and long lasting in the 460-seat theater when Milford High School junior Shelby Houghton, 16, was named the winner of the Youth of the Year Award by the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley at a festive ceremony held Thursday, March 16, at the club’s Amato Center for the Performing Arts.

The victory gives Houghton a coveted berth at a state competition in Concord on Thursday, May 25. Young people who won the regionals at clubs throughout New Hampshire will be her rivals in a quest for scholarships and recognition. State winners will then vie for a regional title in New York on Monday, June 19.

The Northeastern Youth of the Year National Award title holder will be proclaimed on Tuesday, Sept. 26, in Washington, D.C., where President Donald Trump is expected to witness the installation.

Scholarships are awarded in escalating amounts at each level up to $140,000.

Houghton, a club member since fourth grade, is an honor student, an accomplished saxophone player, and active in softball and other sports. Her awareness of the club began when she was a child sharing a cooking lesson with her “Nana” that entailed use of some peanut butter contained in a jar bearing an advertising sticker touting the Boys & Girls Club.

Houghton joined the club at 9 years old, and upon the death of her Nana, she was soothed with a club-made cake baked with Oreos and peanut butter. The sympathetic gesture remains a cherished memory.

“The club empowers people,” Houghton said. “It lays the foundation to learn to be great people. My success starts at the Boys & Girls Club. It’s a community of friends and family.”

Some 4,000 clubs nationwide and on military bases elsewhere serve an estimated 4 million youngsters. Children ranging in age from 5-16 comprise the majority of the membership, according to BGCA.org. The mission is to put young people on a path to greatness and provide a safe place to learn and grow.

The quintet of highly qualified competitors at the ceremony in Milford included fellow club members Lily Ayotte, 16; Nicole Jutras, 16; Jon Merchant, 18; and Katy Osterholtz, 18. All are students at Milford or Souhegan high schools. They were selected as nominees by staff members whose evaluations weighed their commitment to the club’s most cherished values: integrity, respect, community and teamwork.

Fun is a fringe benefit ample in both volume and frequency.

The evening saw the presentation to Houghton of a $1,500 scholarship, while scholarships of $500 each went to Ayotte and Merchant.

A comment the following morning from Coco Wolf, national director for Youth of the Year, came from Boys & Girls Club of America headquarters in Atlanta. She said the awards, on local, regional and national levels, are a testament to the achievements of young people from many walks of life.

“Each year, we select a national Youth of the Year to serve as an ambassador for Boys & Girls Club youth and as a strong voice for all of our nation’s young people,” Wolf said. “The Youth of the Year exemplifies the critical impact that Boys & Girls Clubs have on the lives of young people.”

Susan Taylor, executive director of the BGCSV, and board of directors President Bob Heaton commended Houghton onstage and praised the achievements of all of the candidates, most of whom have been active with the club since grade school. Teen Coordinator Julia Arciere welcomed each member, all of whom offered heartfelt stories about their years at the club.

Houghton was quick to share praise and thanks for the award, made possible in part by a bequest from the late Norman Adams, a longtime Milford resident known for his support of the community’s youths and by a successful Youth of the Year scholarship fund.

“I am really honored to represent the Boys & Girls Club,” Houghton said. “There are so many people to thank. I’m extremely honored.”

Houghton, Osterholtz and Jutras are now on staff at the BGCSV and using their experience in the club’s many programs to enrich the lives of the hundreds of youngsters who regularly participate in club activities. The offerings range from education and career programs to character and leadership programs, along with health and life skills development, arts programs, and sports, fitness and recreation opportunities.

Merchant, a member since 2009 who has indulged in many theater productions, said membership has “taught me to be myself.” Ayotte, who joined the club at 7 years old, called the BGCSV “a second home where you’re always welcome.”

Long periods of preparation preceded the event. The nominees spent hours honing their speaking skills, writing essays and securing letters of recommendation. Video interviews preceded each candidate’s presentation. All agreed the final selection was a difficult one for judges Tony DeMarco, principal of Milford Middle School; Joelle Martin, Milford state representative and BGCSV board member; and Stacy Clark, owner of Turnstone Construction Corp.

Also saluted was the Civic Supporter of the Year. Edward Jones Investments representatives Marc Chareth, Joan Poro, Trent Blalock and Stan Green were beckoned onstage to accept flowers and thanks.

Another person recognized for outstanding achievement was Amanda Kovaliv, who was named the Community Champion. Kovaliv, a guidance counselor at Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative High School, was commended for her support of a co-op that provides numerous services for locals in need.