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 firstname.lastname@example.org