The Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties hosted its annual, western-themed Steak & Burger celebration on Friday, February 1. The event, which was presented by the Floyd C. Johnson and Flo Singer-Johnson Foundation, took place at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club, and more than 300 guests gathered in anticipation for the organization to announce its 2019 Youth of the Year and 2019 Outstanding Boys & Girls Clubs Alumnus of the Year.
Additional sponsorship support came from Sarasota Kiwanis Foundation; Intertape Polymer Group; Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation; Caldwell Trust Company; Wells Fargo; Irv and Marilyn Naiditch; Palm Printing; Sarasota Scene; Captivation Media Group; SRQ Media; and LongHorn Steakhouse. All proceeds from the event will give more than 8,000 area youth access to life-enriching programs that will empower them to excel in school, become leaders, adopt healthy habits and plan for success after high school graduation.
Jonna Keller, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties Board Chair, welcomed guests to the western-themed celebration and introduced 19-year-old Rickey Tedesco, who is the former Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties Youth of the Year and 2018 Florida Youth of the Year, as the MC, and his co-host Alejandro Horn, a 12-year-old Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club member.
At the beginning of the program, Rickey honored the great legacy of Irv Naiditch, a long-time board member, supporter, advocate and alumnus of the Boys & Girls Clubs who passed away on January 13, 2019, with a moment of silence.
"Our organization is honored to have been a recipient of his dedication, vast knowledge, love and support for decades," said Rickey. "While Mr. Naiditch is deeply missed by our staff, board and Club members, his legacy will be embedded in our mission forever."
Rickey and Alejandro continued the program by introducing guests to each of the Youth of the Year candidates through video presentations. Youth of the Year has been the premier recognition program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1947 that celebrates the extraordinary achievements of Club members across the nation. This year's five exemplary finalists included Lei'Asha Battle, a 16-year-old sophomore at Riverview High School who attends the Roy McBean Boys & Girls Club; Raven Gibson, an 18-year-old senior at Booker High School from the Newtown Estates Park Boys & Girls Club; Katherine Hernandez, an 18-year-old Gene Matthews Boys & Girls Club member who graduated early from Sarasota Military Academy; Leonela Tase Sueiro, a 17-year-old senior at Riverview High School who attends the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club; and Isabella Whitby, a 14-year-old freshman at Englewood Christian School representing the Robert and Joan Lee Boys & Girls Club. The finalists went through an extensive judging process before the event that included completing questionnaires, writing essays and being interviewed by a panel of judges made up of four community leaders and philanthropists including Trish Freeman, Judy Kozlowski, Marge Townsend and Caroline Wetherington.
Before announcing who would represent the organization as Youth of the Year, LongHorn Steakhouse served steaks to the Club members and burgers to the adult guests. Finally, while guests enjoyed desserts from Nothing Bundt Cakes, President/CEO Bill Sadlo joined Rickey Tedesco on stage to announce Leonela Tase Sueiro as the 2019 Youth of the Year.
"I was born and raised in Cuba, and 11 years later, my family moved to Sarasota, a place that despite only being a quick flight away from Cuba seemed like a whole new world," said Leonela. "I struggled to be myself for the first couple years I was here - partly because I didn't know a word of English, but mostly because I felt alone. I had no friends, and no way to make any new ones. Then, I found the Boys & Girls Clubs."
Leonela went on to describe how her Boys & Girls Clubs experience is helping her prepare for success after she graduates from Riverview this coming May.
"I can link almost every amazing opportunity I've had to the Boys & Girls Clubs from job shadowing, paid internships, scholarships and serving as a Board member of a nonprofit I truly believe in," she said. "You can trust that I will continue to pay it forward as the 2019 Youth of the Year."
Leonela will go on to represent the organization at the State of Florida Youth of the Year Celebration in April. If she wins the Florida Youth of the Year title, Leonela will advance to the regional level, then possibly the national celebration. Youth who compete at the state, regional, and national levels have the opportunity to become the 2019-2020 Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year. The national winner will become the spokesperson for 4 million Boys & Girls Clubs members across the country, win academic scholarships and have opportunities for life-changing experiences such as networking with celebrity alumni, speaking at national conferences and meeting elected officials.
Watch this video to learn more about Leonela.
After the Youth of the Year award presentation, Bill Sadlo presented Mack Reid with the 2019 Outstanding Boys & Girls Clubs Alumnus of the Year award. Mr. Reid is a 46-year veteran of programming and administration with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He joined the Boys & Girls Clubs as a member in 1956, and attributes much of his success to the Club’s staff and enriching programs. After securing a degree in Business Administration from Jacksonville State University in 1969, Mr. Reid held Executive Director Positions at Boys & Girls Clubs in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Albany, Georgia; and Sarasota, Florida. Today, Mr. Reid is a consultant at I Squared Consulting, which focuses on building the capacity of nonprofit organizations to better deliver their missions. Our organization is honored to recognize Mr. Reid as the 2019 Outstanding Boys & Girls Clubs Alumnus of the Year.
"These future leaders are exactly the reason why I love giving back as a Club alumnus," said Mr. Reid. "While the Boys & Girls Clubs strive to make a lasting impact on these kids’ lives, the kids truly make just as much of an impact on my life. While the Clubs' programs grow each year, the sense of family remains the same and keeps Club kids coming back day after day. We are a family of caring mentors, volunteers and advocates with 7,000 children who need us the most."
Watch this video to learn more about Mr. Reid.
Click here to see photos of the event by Lori Sax and Captivation Media Group, and be sure to save the date, Friday, February 7, 2020, for next year's Steak & Burger celebration. For more information, call 941-366-3911 or visit bgcsdc.org.