CLEVELAND — Samarion Newell is a senior at Sandusky High School in northeast Ohio. He’s a straight-A student, volunteers in the community, is on student council and plays multiple sports.
“Soccer, basketball, I used to play track, but track got replaced with tennis,” Newell said.
He’s also Ohio’s newest Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year.
“It is a blessing,” Newell said. “Really everybody’s a winner in this situation, because it’s considered a competition, but it never felt like a competition with other contestants. We all got to hang out, talk, play games and really just built a friendship throughout it all. So it’s great to be able to share this moment with them.”
At a luncheon in Columbus, a panel of judges including Second lady of Ohio Tina Husted chose the winner out of eight finalists. Newell won a $20,000 scholarship and a chance to compete in Chicago at the regional competition and potentially the national competition.
“Being a kid, you always have dreams of being able to do something be for the community, always give back and be able to represent, but I never thought it would be this soon. So it’s, it’s all catching me off guard and a big surprise,” Newell said. “I’m grateful and blessed to be representing the state of Ohio. And I’m gonna do the best I can to represent the great Buckeye State.”
To qualify for the Youth of the Year is an intense process. Each year, thousands of club teenagers from across the state compete in local Boys & Girls Club competitions. They give speeches, write essays, are interviewed and have to prove they embody the values of leadership, service, academic excellence and a healthy lifestyle.
“Along the way, the kids gain these networks of different kids from across the state,” said Tommy John, the Chief Executive Officer for Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton. “Like kids that were here today, they got to meet kids from all over the state who they had never met before. Kids from Cincinnati met kids from Cleveland, and everywhere in between, that’s the incredible part of Youth of the Year is the network, the relationships that they take away.”
For Newell, his journey to being Youth of the Year started at the Boys & Girls Club of Erie.
“It’s the second home,” Newell said. “To some kids, it’s the first home because at this point, a lot of parents work to take care of their children. And the Boys & Girls Club, the mentors are everything. They might be with the children more times than they are with their own parents. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because they have a strong support system here.”
He’s been coming to the nonprofit almost daily since he was 12 years old.
“It’s a place where children can feel safe to be themselves, to interact, to talk out and really just find people that’s just like them and not be ashamed of who they are,” Newell said. “It’s just a strong community environment, where everybody can come together.”
It’s a place to do homework, make friends, feel supported and loved.
“This is a, first of all, it’s a safe space for all young people,” said Jerome Johnson, the area director for northeast Ohio’s Boys & Girls Clubs. “We provide resources, we provide programming, we just want the kids to reach their full potential.”
Johnson saw Newell’s potential at a young age and helped him unleash it.
“He’s just an awesome kid. I’m more of a background I like to push our young people out toward the front,” Johnson said. “We just be there to provide those resources, be those mentors and be there when they need us the most.”
To be considered for the Youth of the Year, you have to have overcome adversity. For Newell, this was growing up in a single-parent household.
“It’s hard, but it’s worth it and I’m so proud of him,” said Melissa Swain, Newell’s mom. “The confidence and just the help as a whole and the mentorship, it’s been great.”
His club helped him adapt, find confidence in himself and become a true leader.
“It’s one thing to be a leader, but it’s another thing to be a leader amongst leaders. You got to be able to bring people up with you,” Newell said. “Because what you do as an individual doesn’t speak volumes enough. It’s one thing to have all the knowledge, but it’s another thing to be able to share that knowledge and bring others with you.”
Across the state, there are 12 Boys & Girls Clubs that operate nearly 100 sites across 26 cities and towns and serve more than 44,000 kids. Each club is a bit different as they adapt to the community they serve.
“These students are some of the shining lights of our communities and will be the young people that we will depend on to make America the greatest nation in the world,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
The Youth of the Year is the most prestigious award the clubs offer.
“There are four parts to the application. So it’s the entire application. It’s the essay, it’s speaking skills, it’s the interview process. So we look at those four categories, and then decide on who we think will be the best Youth of the Year for Ohio, and certainly Samarion exceeded all those categories,” said Tina Husted, the Second Lady of Ohio.
It’s a scholarship at its surface, but a networking and leadership building program at it’s core. It’s also proof to Ohio and the nation that youth aren’t just the leaders of the future, they’re leaders of today.
“The youth are now, so we really got to focus on that and build up the youth of today,” Newell said.
Newell said he plans to use the scholarship money to attend Cleveland State University and major in finance. For more information on the Youth of the Year program, click here.