Being the new kid is never easy.
But sometimes the new kid blossoms into the smart, confident kid who becomes a leader among her peers.
It happened for two Lakewood teens at their local Boys & Girls Clubs.
Brianna Mitchell, a member of the Lakewood branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, is the 2017 Boys & Girls Clubs Washington State Youth of the Year.
Nyah Hall, who belongs to the club at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord youth center, is the 2017 Washington State Boys & Girls Clubs Military Youth of the Year.
Brianna is a senior at Lakes High School. Nyah is a sophomore at Clover Park High School. Both girls have a list of activities and achievements that help define them, from sports to student government.
Both will represent Washington at regional — and potentially national — Boys & Girls Clubs competitions over the summer.
Both girls also remember their hesitant first steps at the local clubs.
The more I became involved in the youth center, the better my life became.
Nyah Hall, Boys & Girls Clubs Washington State Military Youth of the Year
Like a lot of military kids, Nyah has moved several times, compliments of her dad’s Air Force career. She lived in Japan and New Mexico before moving to Washington.
She’d been a member of other Boys & Girls Clubs, but it wasn’t until she got to the club at JBLM that it clicked for her.
“Prior to my club experience, I was always OK with doing just enough to keep me from getting in trouble,” she recalled in her youth-of-the-year competition speech, which she recently repeated for the Lakewood City Council. “The C’s were good enough for me. I’d given up on sports and had a ‘What’s in it for me?’ attitude.”
She wasn’t sure how she’d fit in at the JBLM club.
“To my surprise, I was welcomed and now have friends of all ethnic backgrounds,” she said. “The more I became involved in the youth center, the better my life became.”
Brianna also recently delivered her winning competition speech to the City Council. In it, she compares her time at the club to a roller coaster ride.
“It was a slow and rough start at the Boys & Girls Clubs,” she said. “I felt out of place and that I couldn’t belong.”
She tried a tactic that’s not uncommon among teens.
“I thought at that age that the only way you can make friends is through negative attention. So that’s what I did.”
She started picking on kids who couldn’t fight back.
But she said staff at the club helped point her in a new, more positive direction and “reminded me of who I was.”
The friends I made at the Boys & Girls Clubs are just like my brothers and sisters.
Brianna Mitchell, Boys & Girls Clubs Washington State Youth of the Year
“I eventually got the hang of it,” Brianna said. “I gained friends that I needed, and we even became leaders of the club.”
Today, it’s clear that other teens at the club follow Brianna’s lead. On a recent afternoon, she organized a friendly game of UNO for about 10 teens. The banter was casual and friendly around the table as cards were picked up and discarded. Later, during a staff-led discussion about bullying, Brianna was an active participant.
Nyah and Brianna say that the people they have met through Boys & Girls Clubs are like a second family.
“At the club, I’m at my best,” Brianna said. “The friends I made at the Boys & Girls Clubs are just like my brothers and sisters.”
Brianna talks about how the club and its staff and members were there to support her when her grandmother died two years ago.
Nyah also talks about the feelings of solidarity among youths at her club.
“In a military community, the youth center is a safe haven for teens,” she said. “We all share similar challenges. When we experience deployments, frequent moves or having to say goodbye to our friends, we try to cheer each other up.”
Living far from members of her extended family, she misses being able to share special moments with them.
“I always wanted to hear my grandparents or other relatives cheering for me at my sporting events or even celebrating my birthdays with me,” she said. “Instead, my relationship with my extended family are birthday cards and a few phone calls a year.”
Nyah says she wants to be the national Military Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs because she wants to share her experiences of meeting new people and facing new challenges with other military kids.
Brianna’s quest for a national title is driven by her desire to represent Lakewood and put it in the spotlight.
“I want to be able to represent the South Puget Sound and Washington state, and share what the Boys & Girls Clubs has done for me,” she said.
School: She’s a senior at Lakes High School.
Title: Boys & Girls Clubs Washington State Youth of the Year.
Club membership: Lakewood branch of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.
Other activities: Associated Student Body vice president, varsity basketball and volleyball teams at Lakes, acting and directing plays at the Lakewood club.
College and Career ambition: She plans to attend Eastern Washington University and wants to become a psychologist.
School: She’s a sophomore at Clover Park High School.
Title: Boys & Girls Clubs Washington State Military Youth of the Year.
Club membership: Boys & Girls Clubs at the youth center at JBLM.
Other activities: Javelin and discus thrower for her school track team, school honor roll, volunteer at the McChord School Age Center, where she works with younger kids.
College and Career ambition: She wants to attend the University of Washington and become an Air Force flight nurse.