WEST L.A. — Courtne Dotson’s eyes started welling as she sat and listened to a speech that she knew was about her.
In a state of shock and overcome with joy, the 17-year-old Hamilton High School student got out of her chair to a round of applause, accepting the Youth of the Year award by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica, honoring the teenager for her volunteer and leadership role with the nonprofit organization.
“I couldn’t stop crying,” Dotson said last week about receiving the award at the annual Youth of the Year banquet on Feb. 7. “I kept saying thank you and that I worked really hard for this.”
The teenager was recognized for her dedication to the club, all while juggling high school studies and helping her single mother run the household.
Founded more than 60 years ago, the Youth of the Year is a national program that recognizes members who act as strong ambassadors for the program, embodying service and leadership and acting as a role model.
The Youth of the Year recipient wins a certificate and medallion before entering in a state competition. If successful at the state level, the winner receives a plaque and $1,000 scholarship. State winners go on to the regional competition where they have the opportunity to win a $10,000 scholarship. The regional winners then continue to the national competition where the final victor is awarded a $26,000 scholarship during a Congressional Breakfast that is attended by the president of the United States.
“Courtne Dotson is an outstanding role model and asset to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica and we are honored to name her as our Youth of the Year,” Allan Young, the CEO and club president, said. “She has overcome great personal obstacles to become the driven young woman she is today — proving to all around her that great things can be achieved with a little hard work and dedication.”
Dotson was 6 years old when she began spending the summers at the club, which was located just down the street from where her mother works as a secretary in a doctor’s office. The first day came as a culture shock to Dotson, who described herself as a shy girl, looking around and seeing kids screaming and running around having a good time.
“Once I started coming, I started loving it,” she said.
The summer visits continued into the school year starting Dotson’s freshman year when she began taking the bus from University High School. Those bus rides went from being 15 minutes to an hour when Dotson transferred to Hamilton her junior year, though that didn’t deter her from continuing the relationship with the club.
In addition to volunteering with the club and in the community, Dotson has served in various leadership capacities with the organization. She is currently the president of the SMBGC’s Keystone Club, which provides leadership training to teenagers between the ages of 14-18.
She is currently helping to organize a fundraiser to send students to the national Keystone leadership conference in Atlanta this spring.
Dotson credits the club for helping her become the person she is today — a student with aspirations of becoming the first in her family to attend college.
For the past year, Dotson has been regularly visiting the club to beef up her college resume, taking SAT preparatory classes on the weekends and improving her admissions essay with an instructor every Tuesday.
Dotson has applied to a handful of colleges, including UCLA, the University of California, Berkeley, California State University Northridge, and San Francisco State University.
She plans to study psychology and become a youth counselor.
Dotson has long dreamed of winning the Youth of the Year award, impressed as a child when she saw the pictures of past recipients on the wall.
“I wanted to be the face on the wall for a whole year,” she said.
After she was nominated, Dotson was required to fill out an application that included writing two essays and an interview with several of the organization’s board members.
One of the essays asked nominees to explain what the club means to them.
“The club, to me, means everything,” Dotson said. “Without the club, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today.”