Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Annika Oren, candidate for the Boys and Girl's club Youth of the Year award, at the Kenai Boys and Girl's Club office on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Annika Oren, candidate for the Boys and Girl's club Youth of the Year award, at the Kenai Boys and Girl's Club office on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Youth of the Year award chosen

Annika Oren’s family moved to Kenai from Fairbanks when she was in elementary school. Soon after arriving, Oren’s mother signed her up for the Kenai Boys and Girl’s club.

“I wasn’t getting along with the kids from my school and I was often getting bullied, so she (Oren’s mother) thought the Boys and Girl’s club would be a good way for me to get to know people and make new friends,” said Oren. “I was there for no more than 15 minutes when a girl came up to me and asked if I wanted to play with her. We’ve been friends for over seven and a half years now.”

Oren, presently a Junior at Kenai Central High School, has been involved in Boys and Girls Club activities ever since. She now participates as a staff member at the group’s Kenai clubhouse, where she works in the kitchen, helps kids with homework, and leads games in the gymnasium. Her story of joining the club is included in a speech she will give as a competitor for the Boy’s and Girl’s club State Youth of the Year award, which will be judged on Friday at the Kenai Teen Center.

Heather Schloeman, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Boys and Girl’s Club, described the Youth of the Year award as “a character and leadership program, eligible for club members 14 to 18 years old.”

The Kenai Boys and Girl’s club held their local Youth of the Year event in late January. Of the three contestants, Oren was the winner, entitling her to compete in this weekend’s state event, in which she will be judged against a competitor from the Anchorage Boys and Girl’s Club. Judges will also select a second winner from members of Alaska’s three separate Boys and Girls clubs for children of military personnel, which will bring competitors from Fort Wainwright Army Base and Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases.

In addition to a speech, judges will evaluate the candidates through 15 minute interviews, three previously-submitted essays, and three letters of recommendation from teachers, Boys and Girl’s Club leaders, and acquaintances.

Oren wrote an essay on her “personal brand,” which she said was focused on athletics.

“I’ve always been active,” Oren said. “I love sports. I played hockey, baseball, softball, all that stuff.”

Oren said one of her concerns is that interest in sports has been “dimming recently.”

“I’ve heard things about people in school not wanting to join sports because it’s uncool,” Oren said. “I’ve heard a couple of kids say that. They don’t want to participate in PE, they don’t want to do the runs. They don’t want to play sports at all. They just want to sit down and play on their phones.”

Another problem that Oren dealt with in her essays is religious intolerance, based on her own experience of growing up Jewish.

“There are people who go to my school who don’t like the fact that I’m Jewish, and I’ve heard them say jokes behind my back, random things like that,” Oren said. “But it’s never anything too big. I don’t quite mind it. But if it’s something major, I have to say something to them.”

Following Friday’s competition, the Boys and Girl’s Club will hold an award dinner on Saturday at Kenai Catering. The winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship from the national Boy’s and Girl’s Club organization, The winner from the non-military clubs will also receive $1,500 from University of Alaska College Savings plan, and the runner-up will be awarded $1,000. In addition, the winner will move on to a regional competition in Anaheim, California, where they can qualify for the national Youth of the Year competition. Oren said she has plans for this prize money, should she win it.

“I want to go off to college and be a pediatrician, which is eleven years of schooling, so I’m definitely going to need the money,” Oren said. “I became a mentor here, and what I realized doing that is that I love to work with kids.”

Oren said she is considering many possible schools.

“The main one I want to go to is Washington University in Seattle, but it’s really expensive,” Oren said. “So if I go, I need to raise money for it. That’s why I’m doing this, and working here (at the Boys and Girl’s club) to earn money.”

Reach Ben Boettger at

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read