Elissia Espalin Rocha is ready to face a world that is filled with conflicts, discrimination and hope.
She intends to be a strong voice for the hope that she was given at the Gig Harbor Boys & Girls Club.
Rocha, 17, told her story to a large room full of adults on Feb. 17 at the annual Boys & Girls Club of South Sound’s Legacy of Hope event at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center. The organization selects its regional Youth of the Year at the event.
Rocha placed third in the competition, and won a $3,500 scholarship to go to the college of her choice. She told the audience that her dream was to attend the University of Washington in Tacoma, and that she wanted to become a veterinary technician. Following the ceremony, several people approached her offering to help her attain her dream and pave the way to further schooling.
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Rocha’s story is one of overcoming adversity.
When she was in second grade, her home life was falling apart. Her father was bipolar, abusive and eventually was sent to jail, leaving her mother, two sisters and herself to fend for themselves.
Rocha’s mother worked hard to support the family, but it wasn’t enough to pay the rent, and they became homeless, floating from friend’s home to friend’s home to keep a roof over their heads. Fast forward to fifth grade, when Rocha and her family moved to Gig Harbor. Her home life had stabilized and she regularly attended school, but faced bullying daily from classmates who saw her as an outsider. She withdrew into her protective shell, stayed very quiet, and hoped to disappear from their sightline.
Then things changed again.
Rocha found a safe place when she found the Cheney Family Branch of the Boys & Girls Club. The staff and other club members welcomed her. She had help with her schoolwork, friends to talk to and fun activities to fill her life.
According to Jennifer Davide, the Gig Harbor Club’s program director, it took some gentle prodding and encouragement, but Rocha started to blossom into a beautiful and confident young woman.
Last fall, the staff voted unanimously to nominate her as the Cheney Family Branch’s Youth of the Year Award to compete for the Boys & Girls Club of South Puget Sound’s Youth of the Year award, and Davide was appointed to mentor Rocha through the preparation process that would take her to that regional competition.
Over the following months, Rocha wrote three essays on her hopes and dreams. She developed a presentation and learned to speak in front of an audience and practiced delivering it to small groups. With a shy giggle, she credits “Miss Jennifer” with her success.
“Miss Jennifer Lynn Davide is the most amazing and inspiring person I know,” she said.