The last time the Oakhurst Boys & Girls Club was represented at the Fresno County Youth of the Year event was in 2009.
That dry spell came to an end when, in 2017, after competing against 20 other clubs, Steven Nguyen, 15, a YHS freshman and B&GC member for seven years, was selected as one of six to move forward in the competition.
An involved process, Nguyen wrote three essays on his vision for America’s youth, his club experience and personal brand (selflessness), and included three letters of recommendation as well as school transcripts.
As a finalist, he was interviewed by six judges, and spoke before an audience of 200 about his experience growing up in Oakhurst.
His family immigrated to the area from Vietnam when he was just one year of age. He didn’t learn to speak English until he began attending school.
“When you constantly hear things like ‘this guy won’t make the basketball team. He’s Asian,’ or ‘if you don’t make this free throw, you’ll dishonor your family,’ you learn to use those harsh words as motivation. I internalized racist comments from my peers as a child, and honestly believed what they said was true,” Nguyen told the audience.
“However, my deep appreciation for self acceptance started when I met Jen, (BG&C unit director), who taught me the color of my skin didn’t matter, that the world is very diverse, and that no two people will ever be the same.”
As the eldest, Nguyen helps his parents, who are business owners, take care of bills, bank transactions and translates business calls. He’s also Keystone Club president, and power forward on the YHS junior varsity basketball team.
“But most importantly,” he continued, “I’m an older brother and I want my siblings to have the opportunities I never had. Because Jen has invested in me, I want to invest in them ... For someone who has been put down most of his life, my goal is to share the love and compassion that the Boys & Girls Club staff have shown me ... I truly believe that if our generation puts others before themselves, if they’re kind and show compassion, future generations will continue this.”
Once all the speeches had been given, Tom Ferdinandi, vice president and CEO of Milano Restaurants International, addressed the young speakers, saying, “You talked about how club members inspired you. You left us inspired. Your speeches were difficult, and you left us speechless. I can’t say how proud we are of you ... the contributions you are going to make to the community are unfathomable. You’ve made us feel like winners, just knowing that you’re our future.”
“Steven is a great role model for the youth of Oakhurst. He’s a kind, giving person and he demonstrates this daily at the club,” said Jennifer Simmons, BG&C club director. “We are extremely proud of all his accomplishments, and that he represented our club for Youth of the Year.”
Nguyen’s younger siblings, Katelyn (7) and John (12), also B&GC members, are very proud of their big brother, too.
When club staff created a poster with Nguyen’s photo and a few of his quotes, Katelyn said, pointing to the photo, “That’s my brother. I want to take it home.” The poster, which has been promised to Katelyn, has not only inspired other club members, but has stimulated dialogue as to how they, too, can be selected as a future Youth of the Year finalist.
The Boys & Girls Club is located at 40094 Indian Springs Road in Oakhurst; (559) 642-4600.