Growing up poor and homeless made Shaquille Hildreth angry.
Hildreth, named Boys and Girls Club of Lorain County Youth of the Year Wednesday, recalled often being cold, hungry and lacking clean clothes for 14 years. Hildreth, 17, lashed out as a Lorain High School freshman, getting suspended for 40 days for fighting at school.
“I planned on going in and being the biggest, meanest guy and getting the girls,” he told a four-judge panel before receiving the award. “It didn’t fly.”
Hildreth said after the suspension, he continued to fight outside school, shoplifted and struggled academically. Hildreth, who said he grew up without a father, said his mother left him to live with older sisters in his sophomore year.
That year, on the advice of a friend, Hildreth said he rejoined the club, which he attended as a seventh-and eighth-grader. Hildreth said the club was a safe haven offering him direction, guidance, role models and tutoring.
“The Boys and Girls Club gave me hope,” said Hildreth, one of four finalists who competed for the award. “I will continue to be part of this group for the rest of my life.”
The club, formed in 2000, has sites in Elyria, Lorain and Oberlin and an annual budget of about $2 million, said Mike Conibear, club executive director. The club serves children 6 to 18 years old and sees about 700 children daily.
Finalists were chosen by site directors. The other finalists were Nalani McFarland, 17, an Oberlin High School senior; Javonte Pool, 15, an Elyria High School sophomore; and Destiny Wilson, an 18-year-old Lorain High School senior.
The contest included written essays, a short speech by finalists and interviews with the judges. The contest was judged by County Commissioner Ted Kalo, Nancy London, a club grant writer, Monica Snipes, club director of special programs and Stephen Sturgill, a Lorain Schools assistant superintendent.
McFarland, who said she is choosing among five colleges, told judges how the emotional hardships she endured as a child have made her want to become a social worker helping children. Pool — considering joining the Air Force after high school and then attending college — told the judges how he hopes he can better the lives of the children he tutors at the club.
Wilson, planning to attend The Ohio State University and become a veterinarian, said time at the club helped alleviate the pressure of being the first in her family to attend college.
Wilson, a Titans basketball player, tutors and coaches basketball at the club.
Rick Dimacchia, club director of sports and recreation, said judges spent about 30 minutes deciding on a winner. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said.
Hildreth, planning to attend the University of Findlay and major in criminology, said winning rewards his efforts to turn around his life.
“To be able to represent the Boys and Girls club here is just an honor,” he said.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Boys and Girls Club of Lorain County began its Youth of the Year award in 2004. It honors members who overcome adversity to excel academically, demonstrate character and leadership and serve the club and community well.
The Lorain County winner will compete with winners from the 15 other clubs in Ohio March 28-29 in Detroit.
Five regional winners will compete for the National Youth of the Year in September in Washington, D.C.
State winners receive a $1,000 scholarship. Regional winners receive a $10,000 scholarship and the national winner receives a scholarship up to $50,000.