When Steven Tran joined the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence (BGCL) six years ago, he said he found a safe haven from the bullying he experienced over his ethnicity and interest in computers.
As Tran's confidence grew, so did his club involvement and leadership. Now a senior at Central Catholic High School, he recently added a significant accomplishment to his college applications: 2017 BGCL Youth of the Year.
Established in 1947, Youth of the Year is the Boys & Girls Club of America's premiere recognition program for club members 14 to 18 years old, promoting the values of leadership and service, academic excellence, and healthy lifestyles. The nominees, all of whom exemplify the critical impact that Boys & Girls Clubs have on the lives on young people, progress from their local club to the state, regional, and national levels. The National Youth of the Year, who is installed by the President of the United States, serves as an exemplary ambassador for Boys & Girls Club youth and a strong voice for all of the nation's young people.
Jody Ranieri, teen director at BGCL, said Tran has come a long way from the timid seventh grader he met while teaching Passport to Manhood at his middle school.
"Even then, all he wanted was to unlock opportunities by becoming more educated," Ranieri said. "I'm very proud of Steven, and I'm very proud to be part of this club that changes the lives of so many kids like him."
Tran, the son of Vietnamese refugees, said being the only Asian in his middle and high school classes has been "lonely and isolating."
"Not fitting in anywhere, the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence was the first place where I could be the nerd I am," Tran said. "It was only there that I started to enjoy learning again and smiling more."
In fact, Tran's shyness evolved into leadership after he began spending time in the computer room. He founded a coding club for his fellow youth members and learned Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro, with which he won two of his three national graphic design awards.
"I wanted to use my hands to learn and create, and the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence gave me that," added Tran, who balances multiple advance placement classes with extracurricular activities and a part-time job at Key Polymer in Lawrence. "It became my home-away-from-home where my dreams were shaped."
As soon as he became eligible at age 14, Tran joined the Keystone Club, a high school leadership group that performs community service benefiting the club and city. He took on the role of head of marketing, served on multiple community service project committees, and donated hundreds of hours back to the club through its nightly supper program for youth members. Tran has also been a member of the Lawrence Youth Council, Highland Street Youth Philanthropy Initiative, and BGCL Chapter of the 84 Movement which unites and inspires kids statewide in the fight against Big Tobacco.
At Central Catholic, which Tran attends on the Montagne Scholarship coordinated through BGCL, Tran is head of graphic design and website development for Tedx Central Catholic, president of the chess team, an officer on the tech team, a placing member in the Science Olympiad, and a member of the National Honors Society.
"The club has meant so much to me," said Tran, who aspires to study computer science in college. "It has become a part of my life, and hopefully the lives of many other kids to come."
Over 250 children daily participate in the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence homework room.