Boys and Girls Clubs name local Youth of the Year

2012-02-20T17:15:00Z 2012-02-20T20:45:13Z Boys and Girls Clubs name local Youth of the YearBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette
February 20, 2012 5:15 pm  • 

It's never easy to share some of the most difficult, and most personal, challenges you've faced in your life, especially in front of a group of strangers.

But a pair of local teenagers did just that Friday and it was that willingness, and how they've faced their difficulties, that earned Twana Buck, 16, the title Youth of the Year, and Katelyn Gibson, 13, Junior Youth of the Year from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Yellowstone County.

"This is the highest honor that any club kid can receive," said Brian Dennis, the clubs' chief professional officer. "These are what we want our kids to be. They are our walking, talking success stories."

Both girls will head to Helena on March 19 as Billings representatives at the state Youth of the Year competition, where they'll give a presentation and answer questions on the challenges they have faced and how the clubs have helped them.

They used Friday's gathering, at Crist, Krogh and Nord in downtown Billings, as a chance to give their presentations and get a little feedback.

Before her speech, Twana, a sophomore at West High, seemed nervous, occasionally cracking a wide grin. But when she spoke of how her mother died when she was young and she spent much of her life in foster care, it was in a loud, clear and confident voice.

"Without these adverse and difficult challenges I've faced, I would not be the person I am," she said. "I would not be the positive leader that I am."

She spoke of wanting to be a lawyer and possibly getting into politics after earning a law degree at Columbia University and how Boys and Girls Clubs, which she's been attending since fifth grade, has helped.

"Without them, I don't think I'd have as much confidence as I do today," Twana said.

Katelyn, a seventh-grader at Castle Rock Middle School, talked about struggle over the years among her family, including addiction problems and the divorce of her parents.

Through it all, she's learned from her father "to never give up on hope, no matter what" and she hopes to one day become a rocket scientist.

"I have realized that the most important things you can do is take care of your family and get good grades in school," she said.

She's been involved with the clubs for several years since moving to Billings three years ago and said it's taught her plenty, including how to handle money and how to prepare for college at an early age.

"They help you with pretty much everything you need," Katelyn said. "I consider them a second family to me."

Afterward, volunteer judges critiqued the girls' presentations and gave them advice and encouragement to prepare them for the event in Helena.

The Montana winner for Youth of the Year, for which Twana is eligible, will represent the state at the Boys and Girls Clubs' regional competition in Texas in June, but Dennis said he'd be happy to send either girl.

"They're just driven to be successful despite whatever challenges they've had in their past," he said. "They stepped up and both of them are just absolutely dandies."



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