At 4 p.m. on Friday, seven brave young leaders will be taking the virtual stage at the Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club’s 2021 Youth of the Year award ceremony.

While only one winner will be selected, all candidates have traveled a long road from shy young children who first entered the center to confident and articulate public speakers and leaders.

“It’s an enormous undertaking, and I’m very proud of all our members for being brave enough to recognize how far they’ve come and being willing to put themselves out there and expose their stories and their lives to strangers,” said Logan Fricke, SMBGC teen coordinator.

The journey to Youth of the Year is not an easy one, but it is highly rewarding.

Teens need to complete multiple personal essays, write a speech, and prepare to be interviewed by a live panel. In turn they gain skills in public speaking, self-reflection, writing and confidence.

“Having these questions asked about what I wrote and letting people have a peek into my life, that was very opening and very warming. I felt very vulnerable, but at the same time I felt very powerful,” said Salvador Molina, 2018 Santa Monica YOY winner.

A lot of the young adults that pass through the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club have dealt with many trials and obstacles in their short lives. The YOY competition gives them a chance to reflect on their growth and share their experiences from a place of empowerment.

“Having the title of Youth of the Year is a big honor and makes me feel like I’m truly representing the community that raised me like family and made me who I am,” said Ledia Soliman , who won both the 2020 Santa Monica YOY award and the LA County YOY award.

Soliman started coming to the Boys and Girls Club when she was seven years old. It was the place where she first built most of her friendships and felt encouraged to take on leadership roles. Her dream now is to become a California State Senator.

“As an immigrant, I saw a lot of communities being impacted and not really being assisted. If it wasn’t for the Boys and Girls Club, I wouldn’t have those big dreams because seeing how the community truly impacts the youth is why I got into politics.”

For Molina, the Boys and Girls Club was a place of mentorship, friendship, and social emotional growth. The YOY competition made him discover his love of public speaking and inspired his decision to study communications.

“Before ever stepping foot into that building I was a very timid kid and had anger problems. Boys and Girls helped me develop into a more mature, calm, compassionate person, rather than being very rash and very lonely,” said Molina.

The young leaders participating in Friday’s competition have their own set of impressive stories and achievements to share. While they have been preparing their applications for months, their interpersonal preparation has been occurring at the club for years.

“If I could give an award like Youth of the Year to every kid here I would,” said Fricke. “There’s something uniquely special about watching the kids’ growth and seeing them become young successful adults. I can’t even really put into words how amazing it is.”