For this episode of Community Conversations, we spoke with the Washington D.C. and Virginia-area Youth of the Year Destiny Malloy, and Boys & Girls Club Hylton Club Director Roberta Collier.
Q: So just a quick overview, what is the Youth of the Year and how is it tied to the Hylton Boys & Girls Club in Dale City?
RC: Youth of the Year is one of our premier programs from the Boys & Girls Club of America. And with Dale City, or the Hylton branch, we fall under the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. So, Youth of the Year is a nationwide program throughout the clubs. However, it focuses on teens and allows teens the opportunity to get scholarship money from participating in the program. So Destiny here – she won for the club. So at the club level, she didn’t get any scholarship money, but when she won for Greater Washington, she did receive scholarship money.
And as she went further and further in the competition, there’s more opportunities to gain more money. So essentially, it can be dwindled down to the fact that it’s a scholarship program but, in totality it’s a program that allows young people to be leaders and show their best selves, if you will. It has them do multiple essays, it has them do a speech, and basically it’s just allowing them to give a good representation of themselves. So Destiny now, which I’m sure wouldn’t be willing to talk to people – even a year ago now – she can talk about herself now. She’s a little more humble, but we coached her and coaxed her, but now she can tell you all about Destiny, and who Destiny is.
Q: So Destiny, when you started doing this, what did you – what was it like getting it going – what were your expectations of it? Were you nervous about doing it, or – how did it come along from the beginning to actually being, basically going to Atlanta as the representative for Greater Washington?
DM: It’s been a great journey. My Youth of the Year journey is a bit different from others, because I’ve gone at it twice. My first time running was in 2015, and I did not win for the Greater Washington region. I did get $1,000 from that competition. And then after all of that was done, I said ‘You know, I did like going through it. I did like doing the essays, I liked interviewing, getting to meet all sorts of people’. What might have helped me was that I got to host a dinner with Guy Lambert. I thought that was extremely awesome. So I said, ‘Why not doing it again’?
And two years later in 2017, I went again and was able to win the Greater Washington region, and then I went to states and I won the state region, and it wasn’t what I expected, I’ll say I didn’t expect to change as much drastically beforehand. I was way more on the humble side, not willing to speak with others about myself, not willing to share my story with the world. And now, looking back, I can say it’s crazy how things have changed, and how going through the process, it’s funny to see just how everything moves, how the process really transitions you into a greater person – you get to meet so many other great teens that are out here doing the same thing that you want to do, and it’s just a great thing to be a part of I think. When you join Youth of the Year, you’re joining a long legacy of teen leaders who are just really are dedicated to making the world a better place. It’s just an honor.
RC: If I could piggyback off of Destiny – what it means for the Hylton Club is that we’re more so put on the map. So as you have mentioned, as from being in this area, you know that, as you just said a few moments ago, not everybody knows the Hylton Club exists. Some people think it’s the Dale City Club – some of them might have even lived here for years and not know that we’re there. So, people even in Atlanta now, that we exist and we are a force – that’s amazing. So Destiny helped us become that force.
Q: So how many people – how many youth do you usually have apply for this program, to start getting into the competition?
RC: It depends on which level we’re doing. So for the club level, traditionally we have anywhere from three to five candidates starting out. But then we do a round it down to one in our club competition. With the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington competition, it’s traditionally – we have 12 clubs, so we can have up to 12 participants – but traditionally it’s more around ten or eleven. And then with state, from what I saw, it was about – with state they break it down into military and traditional Youth of the Year, and the same thing with every other competition following that. So with the state level it was roughly – what, ten – about nine or ten.
Q: So through all of these different levels of competition, obviously, I mean many other young people who are basically going for the same thing that you are – obviously it is a competition – but what it is it like interacting with these young people? Is there any camaraderie? Is it some rivalry?
DM: I’ll say that the Youth of the Year competition is definitely like no other. In a way that the competition is there, but it’s not cutthroat. It’s not like – don’t get me wrong, when it’s in competition mode, like we all focus, like we all want to win – and we all understand that, that everyone wants to win. So when we all have an understanding that you want to win it’s easier to just relax, and realize ‘You know, this person, if they’re Youth of the Year, they’re just as great as I am’. And we just wish the best for each other. With every level that I’ve been to, I’ve kept up with at least one or two of the people that I competed against.
And they’re all great. Even whether I win or they beat me, we’ve all just came together – there’s no hatred at each other, there’s no sworn enemies or anything like that. We all just recognize that we’re teens and we’re all here to make a difference, we’re all here to be great, and when you recognize that there’s no competition at the end of the day.
Q: So with the clubs a part of it, especially preparing you for this, you guys also have a quite a bit of work also during this timeframe. What are the things the club has to do to help, you know, Destiny get ready for these different levels of competition?
RC: Well in the sense of getting ready for the competition in itself, we take the approach that it takes a village to raise a child, definitely, at Boys & Girls Clubs. And Destiny did have a village. Her village consisted of a lot of Boys & Girls Club staff members, and at the time one of the staff members – we have a staff member that was a volunteer at the time – two workers from headquarters, myself at the local level, and then the volunteers were pretty much working with Destiny heads on once or twice a week, and we were just pushing her through the competition.
Working on her speeches, working on her essays, and just making sure that every word counted. Because in a competition like this, a lot of the times people see you on paper before they see you in person – so if you have a bright personality, or whatever your personality might be in person – that might not always convey in paper. So we wanted to say ‘Okay, in paper format, you need to look amazing, because you are amazing’. So it was pretty much being nitpicky at times. So sometimes we might go back and forth about ‘Do we want to say this word, or do we want to say this word’ for 30 minutes. And for some people, that’s tedious – ‘I wouldn’t want to do that’ – but for Destiny, she understood that it was a process and we were working to help her present.
DM: There’s a difference between saying sad and despondent, or happy versus ecstatic. We played over many words.
RC: Now she’s become a local celebrity. I like to joke that I’m now her secretary.
Q: So through this whole process, over a couple years really, from when you first started to now, how do you think this helped prepare you for the next chapter in your life?
DM: So this fall I’ll be attending Cornell University, and that definitely wasn’t the goal that I had in mind. I’ll say that this process – it is, it’s life changing for me, and it really just made me see that there is more out there. That there are other teens all the way across the world, when you get into the military teen side – there’s military teens everywhere – in the same organization, doing the same thing as me, and they’re all going on to great institutions, and starting their own companies – it’s really inspiring. And it just makes you think, ‘They have the courage to go out and do that, so I’m gonna step up and I wanna join that team, that force that’s making such a huge difference’.
Cornell was not the goal in the end, but through Youth of the Year, and learning about who I am – really honing in on those skills that Youth of the Year gave me, and using my network, and talking with the many people that I meet, it just so happens that I feel extremely prepared for Cornell. That feels like that’s a home now – the Boys & Girls Club, that is – that’s my home. If I hadn’t of gone through Youth of the Year and met some people that I’ve been able to work with, I would have never convinced myself to even apply to Cornell. And at the end – I actually wasn’t going to – my dad forced me, he said ‘Look, you’ve been thinking about it, don’t doubt yourself, just do it. Just do it’ and I was like you know, itching to press the submit button on my application, but I’m so happy that I did. I mean, I feel extremely prepared.
Through every club that I’ve been through, even outside of Youth of the Year, the Boys & Girls Club has other programs like Power Hour, which is a program to help you with your homework, they have Keystone which is another leadership program, but it’s more of a community leadership, community service based, so a lot of the things I put on my resume for Cornell came through activities in Keystone and Torch Club, which is just like Keystone. And through those programs, the amount of activities, the amount of hours and work that I’ve put in has definitely paid off.
Q: With your experience with the Boys & Girls Club, just like a short version, why do you think that the Boys & Girls Club is important to our community?
DM: It’s hard to put it in a few words. I’ll say the Boys & Girls Club does do a lot. And I’ve already talked about the clubs so I’ll say this – I’ll say that the Boys & Girls Club gives a home when your home isn’t exactly the home you’re looking for. It gives that little boost of support behind you. So I found the club when my father was deployed to the Middle East. He was gone for what I thought was a year, but what my family was saying was 18 months. And I just realized, I was like ‘How do I not know that he was gone for 18 months when I only feel like it was a year?’ I was really depressed at that time. I didn’t want to focus on family members and friends. I wanted to – I just wanted to take his place.
And doing that I became super upset with myself and just kind of really closed in, wasn’t really open to people. And the club, when I was younger and going to the club, they helped me open up. They helped me see that it’s okay to feel sad, but look you’ve got a bright future ahead of you. My Youth of the Year slogan was ‘Choose your destiny’ and Destiny stands for ‘Defying Expectations Serving To Impact In Never Yielding’ and that’s kind of in a nutshell what made me realize that. That you can always just keep pushing through – in a hard situation you can always make it brighter. And I think that’s what the club does, they show you the light at the end of the tunnel.
Check back for the next episode of Community Conversations.