The way Chanté Weston shares, you’d think she’d been born into good fortune.
When her first guitar brought a friend to music, it became that friend’s first guitar.
When a kid needed shoes to play basketball, the shoes walked out of Chanté’s closet and onto new feet.
When another student wrestles with homework after school at the Hilltop Al Davies Boys & Girls Club, Chanté coaches that kid.
Her giving spirit has earned her Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound’s Youth of the Year honors, a $3,500 scholarship and the chance to advance to further rounds of competition.
The award, like every other bit of goodness in Chanté’s life, was hard won.
Chanté, 17, was the youngest of six children. She remembers her mother as being in poor health.
The story was dark beyond illness, said Debora Weston, who is Chanté’s guardian.
“She grew up in a drug-infested environment,” Weston said.
Chanté was 5 when Weston took her out of the home to live with her grandmother, Lily Olga Robertson Sands. Chanté was 9 when her mother died.
It marked her. She was unprepared for school and has struggled to read.
“It takes me more than once to read something. They’d have me one-on-one with teachers, and that made me feel stupid,” Chanté said, though she’s grateful now for all the work teachers and aides poured into her.
On her last day of fifth grade at Stanley Elementary School, her oldest brother was murdered in a Hilltop gang killing.
At the same time, Chanté’s grandmother was slipping deeper into Alzheimer’s disease. Weston moved in to take care of the household.
“My grandmother was a fighter,” Chanté said. “I definitely thought she wasn’t deserving of this disease. Even though she lost her memory, she would say my name.”
That’s a taste of sweetness that remains from an otherwise hard time at home and at school.
Weston enrolled Chanté at Life Christian Academy in the sixth grade.
Through all this, Weston, Shiloh Baptist Church and the Al Davies Club, just three blocks from her home, were steady positives in her life.
“I started coming here when I was 5,” Chanté said. “I was a little ‘hood chap.’”
The club, she said, is filled with good examples and great opportunities.
“Growing up here, I always loved it when the teens would pester me to do better,” she said. “I’d say, ‘I want to do that when I’m older.’ Now I’m doing it. I know how it felt to be mentored by an older kid.”
That’s the thing about the clubs: There’s always someone telling you that you can do it, whatever it is. There’s always someone looking for your talents and interests, finding a way for you to apply and hone them. There’s exercise. And there’s always someone insisting on good school work.
Chanté absorbed that.
“School didn’t come easy for her,” Weston said. “She really had to work hard. She also taught herself the guitar. She taught herself drums. She takes the negative like a car battery. What a gift to the world. What a gift.”
At Life Christian, she’s played varsity fast pitch, soccer and basketball. She was homecoming queen. She’s brought her music to worship teams. She’s on the drum line, and she acts in plays and musicals.
She’s brought her grades up to B’s, some C’s and the occasional A.
At Shiloh Baptist, she brings her music, her faith and a sense of fun that’s made her a teen leader.
“Oh, I am a busy camper,” she said.
But not so busy that she would fade away from the Al Davies club. Not too busy to give time and talent – as well as basketball shoes and a guitar – to kids who look at her and see the proof in the club’s promises.
“She brings everything back to the club,” Weston said. “It’s awesome to see. Everything she achieves, she wants to bring back to this club. She gets it. She understands what it means to bring it back.”
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677