Many upbeat and encouraging accounts of youngsters who are making a difference in the lives of others — as well as their own — can be told daily within our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown.
One such series of impressive stories came recently during the 2012 Youth of the Year competition at the Cleveland Boys & Girls Clubs. To say 10 community judges who made the final selections were overwhelmed with pride, appreciation and emotion toward these local contenders would be a serious understatement.
We tip our hat to the winner — Maria Abeyta, a Cleveland High School junior — who was one of seven young candidates for the local honor. For Maria, becoming the Cleveland representative who now advances to the state competition in Nashville, the award surely was a special gift because it comes at a time when her life — and the lives of her two siblings — is changing.
Maria and her older brother Rickey, 14, and her little sister, Angel, 9, are being adopted by Jennifer Burke, senior unit director at the Tucker Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs. The youngsters have lost both their parents in separate tragedies. Life has thrown the youthful trio multiple curves, yet they have persevered and now their new direction is one promising love, security, plenty of potential and perhaps the most important component of all — hope.
Their story of coping, and of survival, is truly inspiring as are the lives of the other Youth of the Year candidates. More than a few of the community judges surely felt their heart strings tugged by these youngsters as they told of obstacles they have faced in their short lifetimes.
We offer our heartfelt congratulations to the full slate of candidates, including those in runner-up positions. They are Crystalyn Johnson, a senior at Cleveland High School who is the inspiring daughter of Tonya and Bobby Johnson, and who finished as first runner-up; and young Matthew Pell, a junior at Bradley Central High School who is the impressive son of Barbara and Hoyt Pell, and who finished as the second runner-up.
In a competition like Youth of the Year where final selections are based on the subjective reasoning of community leaders whose warm outreach to young people is greatly appreciated, such decisions are difficult. In such an event, one young person must be selected and that young man or woman then represents our community at the state level.
Yet all are inspirations to their family, loved ones, friends, classmates, schools and certainly to all of Cleveland and Bradley County. It was a point made clear by Steve Hixson, representing the Cleveland Elks Lodge which provides the Warren P. Keyser $1,000 scholarship to the winner. In his remarks, Hixson told these splendid youngsters, “You’re all winners,” an endearing message echoed through the applause of the judges and those attending the competition.
These winners include the other candidates — Rickey Abeyta, brother of Maria; Clifton Biddwell; and Raul and Nanette Hernandez, brother and sister of 2010 Youth of the Year and national runner-up Maria Hernandez.
To Maria Abeyta, we wish you well in the state competition in March. To the wonderful field of candidates — Crystalyn, Matthew, Ricky, Clifton, Raul and Nanette — we offer our congratulations, not just for competing well but for giving the Cleveland and Bradley County community another reason to believe in our young people.
Yes, you are all winners — in our hearts, in our minds and in our appreciative hometown whose future awaits your refreshing leadership.