Local Youth Honored By Boys & Girls Club

By Jennifer L. Warren

NEW WINDSOR – Eight years ago, Paola Martinez-Brant lived a life filled with daily fear and uncertainty; last Wednesday night, she was one of a very select group of six Newburgh Enlarged City School students competing for the Prestigious 2017 Youth of the Year Award.

“Back when I lived in Honduras, we didn’t even have a fully functioning bathroom to use in my home,” reflected Martinez-Brant, a senior at Newburgh Free Academy’s North Campus. “There was a guy who used  to come into my elementary school who had raped three girls in the school, and he just kept getting released from jail and coming back to our school; it was crazy and scary.”

Determined to make a better life for her daughter, Martinez-Brant’s mother left Honduras with Paola (then age 9), creating that life by working in a factory from 4am-9pm, taking as much overtime as she could. Unable to speak English and secure a babysitter or other help, the hardworking mother completely entrusted her daughter’s after school care with the Boys & Girls Club of Newburgh (BGCN.) That decision turned out to be a lifesaver and game changer for Paola, who has continued to flourish 8 years later.

“This program helped keep me off the streets of Newburgh,” explained Martinez-Brant, who now attends the 45 Grand Street Teenage Program site, engaging in homework, music production, SAT Preparation, game room activities and a host of other stimulating options. “I have learned from the Boys & Girls Club how much strength I have inside me; I found it when I really had to be strong, that’s when you know.”

Wednesday night, at Anthony’s Pier IX, the formally dressed and eloquently poised Martinez-Brant, joined 12 other BGCN members, as they vied for two honors: Junior Youth of the Year and Youth of the Year. The latter winner would have the prestigious honor of serving as an exemplary ambassador for BGCN as well as a powerful voice for the Newburgh youth.

Candidates were judged on several criteria, such as; leadership, character and service, academic service and healthy lifestyles. Each one of the candidates could be seen inside Anthony’s Pier IX alongside a large billboard display, which revealed their varied, impressive feats, as they interacted with the large crowd.

One of those students, Demetrius Caldwell, a sixth grader at Heritage Middle School, competing in the Junior Youth of the Year category, proudly stood in front of his colorfully designed billboard, showing his academic, extracurricular and leadership feats. Presently in his third year with the Boys & Girls Club of Newburgh, Caldwell has been potently affected by his involvement.

“It’s been an awesome experience that has taught me a great deal of respect,” said Caldwell. “They (BGCN) are always caring, and I can always go to them if I need help; I really look forward to going there.”

This year’s Keynote Speaker was Asheena Baez, who has a consulting business with her namesake. Excited to be at this year’s award dinner, Baez spoke with vigor as she addressed the crowd.

“I do a lot of work in Newburgh, and I believe in children no matter the zip code,” pointed out Baez, who then addressed the BGCN award contenders. “Candidates, when someone tells you no, remember you have conviction, stand by it because it’s where your legacy lies; you must look at a setback as a come up.”

Etana Desir, a sixth grader at Temple Hill Academy, who was announced as the 2017 Junior Youth of the Year as well as Elimar Perez, a senior at Newburgh Free Academy’s North Campus, winner of the 2017 Youth of the Year, both displayed that fortitude and perseverance. So too have all the other candidates. In addition to Caldwell and Martinez-Brant, they included; Zamari Brown, Destiny Erazo, Jaslyn Martinez, Kiara Pizarro, Charlie Vega, Paul Hager, Briana Honora, Grace Olivera, and Ariana Rodriguez.

Each shines in an extraordinary way, according to Baez.

“These candidates are all jewels among us.”

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