Unlike other competitions, Shin and the other 17 students were not going to show off a set of refined skills. Each one was there for a simple reason: to share how their lives had been bettered by their involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“The Boys and Girls Club has helped me so much and I want to help them in return by being a great role model and spokesperson to let others know there is a great place for them, too,” Shin said.
She continued making a name for herself, and the Cleveland clubs, by taking first place at the Tennessee Youth of the Year competition Wednesday. Shin beat out 17 other hopefuls with heartfelt BGCA stories.
Contestants arrived Monday for a day of relaxation before Tuesday’s festivities. They were given a chance to meet the judges and gather their bearings.
“The judges are really nice people,” Shin said. “I met a couple of them beforehand, because they sponsored dinners for us.”
Tuesday dawned bright and full of activities for the young students. Following a breakfast, Shin said the BGCA representatives took a tour of the Titan’s LP Field in Nashville. Each one then presented their speech at a luncheon.
All students participated in two sets of interviews with a total of four judges.
“They asked you about your speech and home life. They wanted to get to know you as best as they could in an eight minute time frame,” Shin said.
Chances are Shin’s story touched the judges in Nashville as much as it has the residents of Cleveland and Bradley County.
“I am sorry— three words so overused that they have become a mundane response at best,” Shin said in a recent speech.
She said apologies were all she had left following her father’s unexpected departure in fifth grade.
“But for all of the apologies that I spoke, I never got to say the ones that would mean the most: the ones for my father,” Shin said. “I never got to say, ‘I’m sorry, Daddy.’ I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough. I’m sorry I never lived up to your expectations. I’m sorry I wasn’t enough for you to stay.’”
At the age of 11, Shin was introduced to the Boys and Girls Club.
According to Shin, the club was an angel in her time of need. She has since become an active volunteer for all seven clubs in the Cleveland area.
“I stand before you now with only one apology left,” Shin said. “I am sorry, Dad, that you couldn’t see the greatness I could become. I don’t apologize for not being good enough or not being worth anyone’s time. Instead, I am thankful and humble and grateful for the position I am in.”
Six of the 18 participants were invited to a second set of interviews. Shin said the next 8-minute session had all eight judges asking questions.
“It was like talking to an old friend,” Shin said of the proceedings.
Contrary to what most would feel in her situation, Shin said she was not nervous.
“I was really fortunate enough to have a lot of practice beforehand.”
“My school was really supportive and let me speak at other places during school [hours],” Shin said of Walker Valley High School.
She said she was satisfied with Tuesday’s speech.
“I gave it my best and I was really proud of how I did. I knew whatever happened Wednesday, I would not want to change a thing,” Shin said.
According to a recent press release from Cleveland’s BGCA, “Shin received the Youth of the Year title based on her sound character, leadership skills and willingness to give back to the community. As the new teen representative for all Boys & Girls Clubs in Tennessee, she will receive a $1,000 college scholarship from Tupperware Brands Corporation and a $5,000 scholarship from the Tennessee Titans.”
Jim Clark, president and CEO of BGCA, said Shin is on track with the club’s mission.
“Meeri Shin and all Youth of the Year nominees are living proof that Boys & Girls Clubs across the country are fulfilling their mission of inspiring and enabling young people to be great,” Clark said.
Shin will compete in the Southeast Region competition against other state champions this summer. Five regional winners will then advance to Washington D.C. in September to compete at a national level.
Needless to say, Shin will be busy between now and regionals.
“I have a great staff at the Boys and Girls Club who line things up for me and make sure I am always on my toes and never idle,” Shin said.