It was a moment that the four students will never forget as the honor of “2017 Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year” was awarded at Solage last Thursday night before an audience of about 100. The honor along with a $250 savings bond went to St. Helena High School student Maria Castro.

Each of four contestants was nominated from one of four units of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Helena and Calistoga. Nataly Romero represented the Calistoga B&G Club; Gema Jimenez (age 11) represented St. Helena B&G Club; Miguel Lopez (age 17) represented Calistoga Teen Center; and Maria Castro (17) represented the Youth Diversion and Intervention Program.

The honor of Youth of the Year is bestowed on the member of the club who has best embodied the goals of their organization. These goals include inspirational growth and achievement towards their unique personal aspirations.

Heather Baker, director of the Youth Diversion and Intervention Program, introduced Castro citing her transformation from a shy and quiet student as a freshman through a number of years of inspirational growth.

“Maria came to me early on, telling me she needed to find a job,” Baker said. “She was a Youth of the Year runner-up in 2014, and has seen tremendous personal growth. She is now working as a staff member of the St. Helena Boys & Girls Club.”

Sarah Goff, Career Technical Education culinary and hospitality instructor at St. Helena High School, wrote Castro’s nomination letter.

“Maria is always ready to help anyone with anything,” Goff’s letter of recommendation reads. “As my assistant this year she has taken a pair of special education students under her wing on cooking projects. She is patient and kind and explains each project in a way that the students are able to execute.”

Castro gave an emotional talk about her personal journey through the Youth Diversion and Intervention Program and her work as a staff member of the St. Helena B&G. She said she was initially frightened at the prospect of talking with children and helping them in her role as a staff member. But soon, she said, she understood first-hand the mission of the club by “helping to change the future, one child at a time.”

The three runners-up for the award each had inspiring personal stories to tell as they presented their dreams and hopes for the future to the panel of seven judges and an audience of friends, parents and mentors who attended.

Nataly Romero (age 11) of the Calistoga B&G Club talked about how the club had helped her in her social skills and inspired her to do her best in school.

Miquel Lopez (age 17) of the Calistoga Teen Center spoke eloquently about how – as an angry student fresh from Guatemala with no English language skills – the mentorship he discovered in the Teen Center introduced him to boxing as a means of learning to control his temper.

Gema Jimenez (age 11) of the St. Helena B&G Club said that after the tragedy of her father’s death, the club helped her confront and deal with the grief and uncertainty of her life. “When you get knocked down, they helped me to get up,” she said.

The awarding of the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year consists of multi-step process that extends from individual unit selection through regional, state, and national processes. The runner-ups for the Youth of the Year will each receive a $100 savings bond.

Castro, as the winner of the 2017 award, will receive a $250 savings bond. Castro will then represent the entire Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga organizations for the regional Pacific Youth of the Year on June 8 in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Sponsorship of the 2017 Youth of the Year award for the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga was provided by Abreu Vineyards, Beckstoffer Vineyards, David Abreu Vineyard Management, Delta Partnership, E&J Gallo Winery, and Trinchero Family Estates. The seven judges of the finalists included Diane Barrett, Steve Campbell, Cate Conniff, Marcus Marquez, Pam Simpson, Whitney Stern and Lisa Toller. Jeff Johnson acted as Master of Ceremonies. Opening remarks were delivered by Orion Roberson. Closing remarks were made by Corey Beck, and the award presenter former Youth of the Year 2016 recipient Joseph Shafer.

More information about the Boys & Girls Club of St. Helena and Calistoga may be found at

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Tom Stockwell is currently a staff writer for the St. Helena Star. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and has been a working journalist for a variety of technical publications as well as a consultant for numerous wineries in the Napa Valley.