by Leonela Tase Sueiro
As shared at the Opening Doors Dinner on January 25, 2024
As you learned, I am from Cuba. I moved here when I was 12 years old. When you’re an immigrant kid, there is only one option: succeed. Do it all—the part-time job and the scholarship; the service hours and the straight A’s.
Other kids may not be worried about those things because maybe their parents have dedicated a bank account to their education, or they already know what college they’re going to because it’s the same one their family went to, but you don’t have any of that. You just have the sometimes-stifling certainty that you will get there too; and all the work that’s been done for the other kids over generations, you have to do in the span of 4 years while you’re still in high school.
You have to be the kid and the adult—because your parents want to help and they do but they’ve got their own baggage to carry—they’ve left everything they know behind and have been breaking their backs working any job they can get for you, so you have to make them proud.
And it all seems pretty impossible until you find the Boys & Girls Club. In fact, I know it would have been impossible for me and my sister without this place.
Because the thing is at that age, many of the adults around you don’t see you as you see yourself—they maybe don’t see a responsible, capable, reliable leader. They see a kid. So, when you find the Club, and it has the career training workshops, and the connections, and the college advisors, and the community service hours…you realize they are this oasis of opportunity in what is otherwise a very vast desert.
That’s what the Club did for me. They saw my hunger, and they fed me. They gave me opportunity after opportunity to prove myself, surprise myself, and build my resume and my confidence. They celebrated my grit, they rewarded my tenacity. They told me I was a leader, so I believed it. They asked me to speak at events, so I learned to amplify my voice. They were so sure of me and what I could do, that I had no other choice but to be sure of myself too. As simple as that. That’s all it takes.
I can trace every experience I’ve ever put on a resume back to this Club. And it’s thanks to them that I graduated from my dream school, George Washington University, completely debt-free and with a job offer.
Thankfully, some things never change. Because now, as an adult, as their employee…they’re doing that thing again…I get to create a curriculum for new programs and manage and empower our youth. It’s the Club’s unwavering trust in me that makes me straighten my back and lift up my head and shake off any doubt that dares to trickle in.
Most special of all is that I get to create a legacy. I get to work with and for teens who are just as excited and restless about their future as I was. I get to be a role model. I get to give back to this place that has given me so much.
And selfishly, I also get to take, it because the people who run this club are nationally recognized as some of the best in the game. As far as I am concerned they are the brightest, sharpest business minds I’ll ever encounter—and not just because I consider them my family.
You heard me say in that video that I want to be able to help everyone around me. That’s still true, and it’s also because of this place because they instilled in me a sense of community, of service not only through their programs but by setting an example. All the people standing back there letting me have the spotlight are the very reason I’m here, hoping to emanate even an ounce of their goodness. If I can be part of the reason another boy or girl is up here in four years telling you all about their journey, I’ll be happy.
Click to learn more about Teen Programming at BGCSDC
Click to see Leonela's Youth of the Year Video.