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Calistoga’s Sabrina Wells has been named the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga 2020’s Youth of the Year.

The pronouncement was made Jan. 9 at a dinner at Brasswood in St. Helena.

Youth of the Year is an award that goes to high school students for their years-long participation in the clubs. This year’s nominees for the distinction were Fernando Rios (Calistoga, senior), Naomi Fernandez (St. Helena, junior), Sabrina Wells (Calistoga, junior), and Erik Martinez (St. Helena, senior).

Each of this year’s nominees gave a speech in front of a crowd of about 150 people. Each student had their own story to share and did so emotionally, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Wells spoke about finding herself after losing much in her young life.

“After my stepdad passed I stopped going to the Teen Center. Then, after a while, I signed up for swimming which later on changed my moods and helped keep me busy. Through the years I’ve developed not only one, but two families that support me; my Teen Center family and my swimming team. I’ve (finally) realized that I am content with myself,” she said.

Wells has experienced many situations that no one her age should have to go through. Despite her rocky relationship with her birth father, the death of her stepfather, and issues with self-perception, she has persevered with support from her new family — something she said she never thought she would find — and self-confidence.

Before the final decision for Youth of the Year, nominees spoke with and connected with the judges before the event. While a choice had to be made, everyone could agree that all of these students were winners. Wells also received a $2,000 prize,and the remaining three were each awarded $1,000.

At the event, before the Youth of the Year was announced, both mayors of Calistoga and St. Helena, and club staff members gave words of inspiration and encouragement for the students who would make the world a better place as they grew, and always help each other through their obstacles.

The club’s staff was also admired for their support and encouragement that keeps these students going. They are a huge part of how far these students have managed to come. Not only are they appreciated by the Boys & Girls Club but also by the nominees, who sang their praises during their speeches.

Nominee Frenando Rios spoke about how he was notorious for being a troublemaker, until he found peace at the Teen Center.

“The Teen Center has helped me open up about my anger and my problems inside and outside of school,” he said.

Rios stated how, after a tough few years at Calistoga Junior-Senior High School, he was sent to a continuation school, which got him into trouble. However, the Teen Center supported him to improve academically, emotionally, and allowed him the possibility to play football.

Naomi Fernandez said she believed she had been forced to grow up too fast, which led to troubling behavior.

“When I was younger I wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with, during the time my parents had separated and I had to face the aftermath of that. I felt as though I had to grow up faster than the other kids, but the Boys & Girls Club made me feel as if I was a kid again,” she said.

Fernandez’s speech was a tearjerker, and she discussed difficult but not uncommon topics that teenagers go through, like her experience with family members who had bipolar disorders, suicidal thoughts, and self harming behaviors.

Erik Martinez spoke about coming from a loving family but a difficult situation. At a young age, he was pushed into an adult role for his little sister. He found it difficult to keep up with his life while supporting hers as well. While he learned more about the customs of the society he lived in, he also had to teach them to his sister, who only spoke Spanish and had difficulty in the United States.

“My sister and I found The Boys & Girls Club. It was a place where we could be ourselves and people supported each other. As I got older the Boys & Girls Club helped me interact with kids and have a great future,” he said.

Not only did Martinez find great support, he has also become a role model for future generations while being able to have the support and interaction with others.

As the final speech came to a close, the audience felt more connected with these students and realized that they were more than just our youth, they are our future.

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Saida Morales attends Calistoga Junior Senior High School.

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