Michael “Mikey” King Simmons and Jessica Star, both students at Yosemite High School, recently placed first and second, respectively, in the Fresno County Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year competition.
Simmons, Star and runner-up Kimberly Pounds, all 16 year-old sophomore honor roll students at YHS, and active members of the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst, spent months preparing for the competition that required multiple essays, nine interviews and a speech before more than 200 Fresno community leaders.
Simmons will now compete at the Northern California level on March 16 at Microsoft in Atherton/Mountain View. The winner of that competition will move on to the state level in April or May, for the chance to represent the state at the national contest.
The Youth of the Year title is the most prestigious honor bestowed upon a young person in the Boys & Girls Club organization. For his winning effort, Simmons received two scholarships totaling $3,000, a $500 Target gift card and pizza for a year from Me-n-Ed’s Pizzeria.
Star received $300, a $300 Target gift card and pizza for a year, and Pounds got $300.
“The Youth of the Year competition celebrates teens whose club experience has empowered them to find their voice and achieve success through their after school experiences at the club,” said Oakhurst club Director Jennifer Simmons. “These three amazing young people exemplify the Boys & Girls Club mission and are proof of the impact the clubs make in transforming young people’s lives.”
The Oakhurst club is run under the umbrella of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, who has run the Youth of the Year program for the past 22 years honoring and celebrating the most inspiring youth in the area.
Simmons, who is a member of the YHS Robotics Club and the varsity water polo team, has been a member of the Oakhurst club for two years. His platform during the competition was promoting tolerance and acceptance.
“In my ideal world, there is no such a thing as prejudice,” said Simmons in his speech. “People of all different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds love each other, grow together and work for a common goal, just like the way it is at the Boys and Girls Club.”
He said the interview portion of the process was the hardest.
“You have to be prepared to answer all types of questions and it’s stressful if you are asked a question that you didn’t expect,” Simmons said.
After graduation from YHS, Simmons plans to attend Fresno State and major in Mechanical Engineering.
“One day I would like to own a robotics company to produce robots that could perform in hazardous conditions where people can’t, such as fires and hazardous material situations,” Simmons said.
Everyone is equal
Star has been attending the Oakhurst Club since she was 8-years-old.
Her message in her speech was that “... everyone is equal, regardless of the color of their skin, their religion, their gender, or their sexuality. We are all equal and deserve to be treated kindly and compassionately.”
She clearly remembers her ‘practice speech’ the day before she gave her speech to the large crowd.
“Many tears were shed and it was a very stressful time,” Star said. “Even though we were competing against each other, everyone was very supportive. We all knew that the other competitors had worked hard, and every single person I competed against deserved to win. I do not feel that I was better than any of the other competitors. The entire competition process was very humbling. It gave me a deeper understanding of other people who have all had difficult experiences and have learned how to overcome them.”
Star said The Boys and Girls Club staff, including Director Jennifer Simmons and Kathy Vue, have taught her that she is good enough to do anything she wants to do in life, and have given her the confidence to be herself and to speak up about things that she previously would keep quiet about such as bullying.
“I have seen kids being picked on for their appearance and their actions, and now have the confidence to stand up to the bullies,” Star said. “The Club has given me my voice.”
She hopes to major in biology in college and is interested in one day becoming a nurse.
Everyone is born a butterfly
In her speech, Pounds, who has been a club member for eight years and was a runner-up in the competition, said she feels very ‘moth-like.’
“I just sort of drift around, giving something my all, and feeling like I get zapped (much like a moth) every time I fail,” Pounds said. “But I want to be a butterfly, where I would have confidence and be free of everything that holds me back from doing the things I love. Despite some difficulties, I have been able to become a butterfly, and my greatest wish would be for a world without judgment. One where no one ever needs to feel like a moth, because everyone is born a butterfly.”
After graduating from YHS, Pounds is leaning towards a major in forensic science or cultural anthropology.
With its three participants, the Oakhurst club had more members in the competition than any other club in Fresno County.
The Oakhurst club’s Board of Directors President Bob Macaulay said he could not be more impressed by the three Oakhurst contestants for the months of preparation they put into the competition.
“I am humbled by Mikey King’s ability to engage the audience,” Macaulay said. “It is truly a pleasure just to know him. The success of Mikey, Jessica and Kimberly are just three examples of how the Boys & Girls Club is making a difference for the youth in our community. The Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst receives no public funding so it is important that we as a community continue to support the organization in fulfilling its mission.”
Macaulay added that the Oakhurst club is actively looking for new board members and volunteers that are willing help make a difference in the lives of Oakhurst children and young adults.