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Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties Announce 2024 Youth of the Year at Annual Steak & Burger Celebration.

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On March 1, more than 300 people arrived at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club in their best “western” attire to attend the sold-out Steak & Burger event, an annual celebration of youth where five teen finalists competed for the prestigious 2024 Youth of the Year title.

Club members dressed as "bucaroos" for the evening's theme.

During cocktail hour, guests enjoyed live country music, a petting zoo, a caricature artist, and photo booth. Following cocktails, guests made their way to the recently unveiled, Dick Vitale Dream Court Pavilion to start the dinner program.

Dinner on the new Dick Vitale Dream Court Pavilion.

BGCSDC Board Chair, Ken Freeman, kicked off the evening with a warm welcome followed by board and alumnus acknowledgments, and a brief history of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year program. Guests were then directed to view the screens for a special "Jeopardy- BGCSDC-Style" opening video starring Club members.

The evening's Co-MCs then took the stage, Roy McBean Boys & Girls Club member, Mykayla G., a senior at Booker High School, and Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club member, Isabella R., a fourth grader at Alta Vista Elementary School. They were joined by Club member, Logan D., a second grader at Tuttle Elementary School, who led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Co-MC's, Isabella and Mykayla

Upon returning to the stage, Co-MC Mykayla reflected on her journey with the Club, stating, "Despite facing significant personal loss, I refuse to let it define me. Instead, I've defined myself, and the Club has been instrumental in this process. Engaging in diverse programs here has not only sharpened my skills but has also led to meaningful connections with supportive staff. Their unwavering encouragement played a pivotal role in building my confidence and fostering my growth, opening doors to countless opportunities."

During the program, brief videos showcasing the individual stories of each Youth of the Year finalist were presented. Special acknowledgment was also given to the judges of the competition for their commitment of time and talent to the evaluation process.

The judging panel for the 2024 competition included:

  • Steve Cantees, Retired Executive Director, ESE, Sarasota County Schools
  • Julia Groom, Director of Strategic Initiatives, DreamLarge
  • Dr. Kameron Hodgens, Director of Community Leadership, Gulf Coast Community Foundation
  • Jose Joia, Wealth Advisor, Walters Strategic Advisors, LLC
  • David Mills, Real Estate Broker, Icon Luxury Group
  • Dr. Harriett Moore, Director, Department of Innovation & Equity, Sarasota County Schools
  • Rafael Robles, Chief Development Officer, Suncoast Humane Society
  • Kirsten Russell, Vice President Community Impact, Community Foundation of Sarasota County
  • Dr. Michael Weir, Chief Operating Officer, Samuel E. Massenberg Foundation
  • Stephanie Jones, Director of Experienced Talent Acquisition, Kroll
Co-MC, Mykayla

Midway through the program, guests were invited to the tennis courts for a dinner buffet catered by Gecko's Hospitality Group. The menu featured deconstructed steak, chicken, and shrimp kabobs, accompanied by roasted veggies, a macaroni and cheese bar, and a selection of sides.

Dinner buffet catered by Gecko's Hospitality Group.

After dinner, the five finalists were called up to the stage and applauded for their exceptional accomplishments. Each of these finalists spent countless hours filling out questionnaires and crafting essays before moving on to the county-wide contest, where they underwent in-depth interviews with the judges in the final round to reach this stage of the competition.

2024 Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties Youth of the Year Finalists. From left to right, Sierra M., Nishalle U., Bianca D., Ava M., and Ashley V.

President/CEO, Bill Sadlo then took to the stage to congratulate the finalists, share organizational highlights and announce the 2024 Youth of the Year winner. After much anticipation, Bianca D., a senior from North Port High School was declared the winner.

President/CEO, Bill Sadlo announcing the 2024 Youth of the Year winner.

Bianca stated, “being named Youth of the Year brings the promise of hope. It represents hope for the thousands of youth who enter the Club feeling insignificant and soon find their voices and discover their leadership potential through Clubs nationwide."

2024 Youth of the Year Winner, Bianca delivering her acceptance speech.

Bianca will represent BGCSDC as she advances to the State of Florida Youth of the Year competition. In addition, she will receive a new laptop and a $5,000 post-secondary scholarship, courtesy, in part by, Coca-Cola Beverages Florida and Titan IT Enterprises. Each of the Youth of the Year finalists also receives post-secondary scholarships.

Coca-Cola Beverages Florida presenting Bianca with a new laptop.

As the evening drew to a close, Alex Moragne, Board member and Club parent addressed the audience to convey her sincere gratitude for the Club's mission and programs. She highlighted the substantial impact they had in guiding her son's journey starting from when he first entered the doors at the age of six to where he is today at Duke University studying biology and medical sociology.

Guests were then asked to turn their attention to the screens one last time for a clip of the BGCSDC mission in action.

The evening ended with an announcement that donations would be matched up to $15,000, thanks to Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation. Proceeds from the event will provide Boys & Girls Club members with greater opportunities to excel in school, become leaders, live healthy lifestyles and plan for success after high school graduation.

Special thank you to our Kick up the Dust, Saddle-Up, and Rodeo-Roundup sponsors: Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, David & Suzanne Arch, Band, Gates & Dramis, Bowman, Scheb, Kimbrough, Koach, & Chapman, P.A. Attorneys at Law, Blistex, Bucket Fillers, Caldwell Trust Company, Conrad Kenley, & Melonie Favorite, Cool Today, First Watch, Golf Going Green, Intertape Polymer Group, Mariash Lowther Wealth Management, Martella Family Foundation, Mark & Kathy Morrison, Osprey Consulting, Irving & Marilyn Naiditch Foundation, Peace River Citrus Products, Preferred Shore Real Estate, Jeff Roberti, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Meghan O. Serrano, Esq., Shumaker, Tom & Debbie Shapiro, Suplee & Shea, Cramer & Miller, Synovus, Anne Virag, and Lee Wetherington Homes.

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