To anyone who missed the front page announcement in Sunday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner, Maria — a May graduate of Walker Valley High School — has been selected the 2010-11 Southeast Region Youth of the Year. She advanced to this level after having been earlier named Tennessee Youth of the Year.
Maria’s regional honor was announced by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Maria is the first member from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland to win the state youth title and to advance to the region. This smiling young ambassador for “what is right with our young people” has been a local Boys & Girls Clubs member for six years.
Maria received the region title last Friday in Atlanta. Charles Sutton, executive director of the Cleveland organization, summed it up eloquently when he spoke of how “incredible” it is that this young leader is being recognized in multiple ways and the tremendous pride for which this community feels.
To excel in one’s youth is one thing, to do it under challenging circumstances is quite another. Maria is the oldest of five children and has been a tremendous support in helping to raise her younger siblings. She has endured the emotional pain of an abusive, alcoholic stepfather and she has battled depression. It is through these experiences that Maria came to know — and to love — the Boys & Girls Clubs. This organization which caters to the needs of our community’s youngsters helped Maria to rebuild her self-esteem and to strengthen her in many ways. To her credit, Maria unselfishly points to the Boys & Girls Clubs’ positive role.
Her community involvement doesn’t stop with this outstanding United Way agency. Consider these examples of Maria’s blossoming leadership during her high school years: She served as president of the Keystone Club, secretary of the Future Business Leaders of America and Health Occupation Students of America, and she was an advisor for the SMART Moves and Seven Healthy Habits for Teens Program. “Wow, that’s a load!” our readers might be saying.
Maria often volunteers to visit and care for nursing home residents. She is a mentor through the Bridging the Gap Mentor program, and she is a strong supporter of the Against Underage Drinking In Our Community program, as well as the One Life, One Choice program. Oh, and did we also mention she is a regular participant in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life fundraiser and Walk For Life?
Maria’s future is a bright one having received $27,000 in college scholarship funds through her participation in the Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year Program. She now advances to the National Youth of the Year Competition in Washington, D.C. where she will meet President Barack Obama.
We know President Obama will be impressed with this young woman. Our hearts will swell with pride when the President learns she hails from a small community in southeast Tennessee.
Maria Hernandez is a shining young star among our young people. She is reason to believe that today’s youth can — and will — overcome the myriad of unique challenges facing our community teens. She is a resounding source of pride for Walker Valley High School, her teachers, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, this entire community and her many friends and loved ones.
What have we left to say? Perhaps only this ... “Maria, you go girl!”