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In Her Own Words: My Youth of the Year Journey

by Amber Bennett, Wyoming Youth of the Year

June 19, 2016

That morning, when boarding the plane, I did not know what to think. All of the emotion and feeling that had been filling me these past few months had found itself clumped up in a small place in my gut. Excitement, yes, but also angst and worry were all mixed in. In the moment of take-off, it was as if that part of my gut was left on the ground and was replaced with joy and anticipation for the next few days. I realized that regardless of the results, everything would be ok.


Amber takes in the view from the hotel. (Dallas, TX) ©BGCCW2016

Amber takes in the view from the hotel. (Dallas, TX) ©BGCCW2016


The hotel is stunning. I’m surrounded by many works of art. Walking through the grand halls, enveloped in one of my greatest passions, adds a bounce to my step, furthering my positive mood.


I first met the other Youth (of the Year) at our orientation and I’m not yet sure what I think of them. Our first meal together is held in the hotel. We have the opportunity to meet various company representatives, sponsors, and supporters of the Boys & Girls Club. We are given pointers and lessons on etiquette and proper table manners. We received a gift bag with numerous gift cards, an iPod shuffle, Dr. Pepper jelly beans, and a quick guide to etiquette. We had the chance to ask questions to a panel about leadership.

The contestants from the Southwest Region. Front Row: Amber, Wyoming; Melanie, Texas; Bethany, Montana Back Row: Jaylen, Arkansas; Jazmyne; Kansas; Clayton, Colorado; Kinte, New Mexico; Ana Marie, Oklahoma

The contestants from the Southwest Region. Front Row: Amber, Wyoming; Melanie, Texas; Bethany, Montana
Back Row: Jaylen, Arkansas; Jazmyne; Kansas; Clayton, Colorado; Kinte, New Mexico; Ana Marie, Oklahoma ©BGCCW2016

Following dinner was one of many photo opps. It has been a long day for all of us, but it’s not over yet.


We find our way to the 27th floor of the hotel and we are given time to practice our speeches with Courtney, the 2015-16 Southwest Region Youth of the Year, who offers advice and feedback on our delivery and story. I was the first to go as I will be tomorrow for the competition. While each one practices, the rest of us sit in another room with our chaperones and get to know each other a little better.


Amber practices her speech.

Amber practices her speech. ©BGCCW2016


After we’ve all practiced our speeches, we begin our swap shop. This is where each YOY brings something special an unique to represent them and/or their Clubs to trade with the other YOYs. I made a canvas that I painted blue. It said “Youth of the Year” and I put my hand print on each one. I told them that it represented how they have each impacted me and my youth of the year experience. The other youth gave things like t-shirts, a Club honor token, and a flash drive with inspirational songs. This was a very sweet moment because many of the gifts were things that were important to them. Once the swap shop was over, we are allowed to head to our rooms for the night.


June 20, 2016

The big morning came quickly. I get up early with plenty of time to get ready. I’m nervous, yes, but more excited than anything. We take so many pictures that morning. One of the judges is late so we stall.  Once everyone is present, we are seated and have a simple breakfast. I’m seated at a table with one other youth and two judges. We talk about simple things. I ask them about their jobs. Once breakfast is over, I am the first to give my speech. I am confident and I give a flawless speech. As the others are given their chance to deliver their speeches, they all do very well.

Amber gives a "flawless" speech in front of the judges.

Amber gives a “flawless” speech in front of the judges. ©BGCCW2016


I am also the first for interviews. Each of us is given the same amount of time to answer questions individually with the panel of judges. As I enter, I shake each of their hands and take my seat. I deliver each answer smoothly and with good thought. I believe my interview went very well. We talk until the last moment and I leave the room as calmly as I can.


Following the interviews and lunch, we have a short break before sound check for the evening’s ceremony and celebration. Once inside the Trinity Ballroom, we find it enormous. We are all stunned by the room – blue spot lights streaming through the air filled by fog produced by machines, large spinning chandeliers, silver chairs around round tables, and a stage filled with Boys & Girls Club decorations. All of this for us, eight teens! We all feel pretty amazing and honored.


Amber with Olympic great and Boys & Girls Club Alum, Jackie Joyner-Kersee ©BGCCW2016

Amber with Olympic great and Boys & Girls Club Alum, Jackie Joyner-Kersee ©BGCCW2016


We are given directions from the event staff and practice. We have an hour break before the big dinner. I took the opportunity to change and touch up for the evening.


We went to the VIP reception and met with various people with more photo opps. It was now time for the big dinner. We gathered backstage to perform the opening. We once again gave our speeches, but this time I was fourth to give mine. Speaking in front of a large group was never hard for me and this room of 1,000+ was no different. It felt great. After I stepped off stage, it was time to begin dinner. We spoke at our tables quite a bit. Everyone was so friendly and seemed interested in us.


Following dinner, the remaining four youth gave their speeches along with words from a few Club Alumni. Once that was complete, we witnessed five minutes of supporters giving generously during a lightening round to go toward scholarship money for the contestants.


When it was finished, we again took the stage and took each other’s hands as they announced the winner for the Southwest Region – Texas Youth of the Year, Melanie W. We all clapped and cheered and hugged. We took more photos. Once the room thinned out, the youth and our chaperones were taken to a suite for pizza and good-byes. It had been a long, but rewarding day.

The Southwest Region's Youth of the Year contestants. (

The Southwest Region’s Youth of the Year contestants. (

June 21, 2016

I packed up my room and said my good-bye to my roommate, Kansas YOY Jazmyne. I can breathe now. It’s all over. This was an incredible experience; one I never could have had if not for the Boys & Girls Club. I am excited to see how the rest of the competition plays out as the regional winners from across the country are announced and go on to compete for the national title.


On behalf of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, we would like to extend our sincere Congratulations to

Melanie W. from Texas who was named SW Region Youth of the Year!


On Monday, June 20, 2016 eight extraordinary Boys & Girls Clubs of America kids gathered in Dallas, TX to vie for the honor of being named the 2016 Southwest Region Youth of the Year and share how local Clubs changed their lives.


Amber Bennett represented our state as Wyoming Youth of the Year. She had the opportunity to meet her fellow Youth of the Year candidates from across the region, along with leaders within the Boys & Girls Club organization and corporate sponsors. She networked with corporate representatives and made key contacts what will certainly serve her well beyond her high school years.


“With Amber, I was very impressed and proud of how she handled everything. Her speech was the best she had given throughout this process. Her professional skills of meeting people shined through as she was not intimidated by the moment ,” said Chris Stier, teen director, BGCCW. “Although she did not win I am proud of her, she was outstanding in every area of the competition and seemed to enjoy each moment. I am excited to see where the future takes her.”


Amber said she is very thankful for this experience and is thrilled to be able to attend college with her scholarship money won through Youth of the Year. She will be able to attend up to six years of college at the University of Wyoming once she completes high school.

We are all proud of Amber and how she represented our state and our Club! We know there is a GREAT FUTURE waiting for her!

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