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Boys & Girls Club names Youth of the Year

2016 Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northland Youth of the Year Makayla Pearson delivers her speech to the crowd in the Holiday In ballroom on Feb. 8. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northland recently held its 45th annual "Youth of the Year" event.

Makayla Pearson, a 14-year-old Denfeld High School freshman, won the competition and will now get the chance to compete at the state level.

"When I first heard my name, I was like really in shock and nervous but excited all at once. It was like an ambush of feelings," Pearson said.

During the event, a panel of judges hear each youth's three-minute speech and interview each youth nominee. The panel of five judges then selects one Youth of the Year winner to compete at the state competition in March.

"I was very emotional. I was in tears. Because I hadn't heard her speech, she wouldn't let us. I was shaking, I'm still shaking. We're very, very proud of her," said Pearson's mother Toni Lonetto.

Established in 1947, the award promotes service to the club, community and family, academic success, strong moral character, life goals and public speaking abilities of the Boys & Girls Clubs members ages 14 to 18.

Pearson had to write essays, prepare for an interview with the judges and practice her speech. She received coaching from B & G Clubs Dave Goldberg Branch youth development professional Angie Dao.

"She had a lot to say and a lot of emotions tied to the club. In the end it was a matter of just taking everything she felt and putting it into words," Dao said. "She was nervous about the speech, but we practiced it multiple times so she could be more confident.

Pearson has been a member at the Dave Goldberg Family Boys & Girls Club for eight years. She has been actively involved in programs such as Torch Club, Smart Young Women, and Young Chef. Pearson also enjoys being active in the recreational and sporting programs on the indoor turf. Outside the club, Pearson enjoys dancing, playing volleyball, and helping others in her free time.

In her speech, Pearson spoke about joining the club as a young child. In fifth grade, Pearson's parents divorced, during which time, she said she relied on the club as a "second home."

"It was somewhere I could just go and be a happy little kid and be distracted from my real life," Pearson said. "It's somewhere I could be myself."

Person also proposed a new emotional mentorship program for the club.

"I'd love to implement a program for kids who are going through some hardships in their lives. A program where they could learn how to deal and cope with their emotions, how to deal with problems and how to open up about it," Pearson said. "The older students, who have gone through the same thing, could help the younger kids by showing them they are not alone."

Pearson's favorite part of being in Boys and Girls Club? Serving the community through the Torch Club. Torch Club is a subset of the club which focuses on service learning projects such as clothing drives, volunteer work and aiding fellow nonprofits. Pearson has served as president of the club for the past two years.

Pearson plans to compete against other club members for the Minnesota "Youth of the Year" title and a $1,000 college scholarship. If he wins at the state competition, she will compete for the title of Midwest Region Youth of the Year and an additional $10,000 scholarship. Five regional winners will advance to Washington, D.C., to compete for the title of BGCA's National Youth of the Year. The winner will receive an additional scholarship of up to $50,000 and will have the opportunity to meet with the president of the United States in the White House.

For more information on the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northland, visit

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176