First Lady Tonette Walker

First Lady Tonette Walker among crowd honoring teen speechwriters from the Boys and Girls Club

by Jack Craver of The Cap Times
Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Bring your handkerchief," warned Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, on Tuesday before we entered the ballroom at the Madison Concourse Hotel, where five Boys and Girls Club participants from around the state would be giving speeches about what the youth organization has meant to them as part of the annual "Youth of the Year" competition.

Out of a larger group of teens representing all 28 state chapters of the Boys and Girls Club, the five had been selected by a panel of judges as finalists for a $10,000 scholarship and a chance to compete in the regional competition for an additional $25,000 scholarship and a trip to the White House to meet the president.

In three-minute speeches delivered to a crowd of several hundred people, the teenagers shared their stories about how the nonprofit after-school group had helped them cope with hardship at home and in school.

"It sounds cheesy but I don't know what I'd do without the Boys and Girls Club of Janesville," said Addie Mayfield, who discussed the heartbreak she felt on her 18th birthday when, for the first time in her life, she didn't receive a birthday card from her father, who was in jail.

"He was done with me since I was 18," she said. "All those years of feeling like I mattered to him, like I mattered to somebody, hit me like a ton of bricks."

It was her "home away from home," at the Boys and Girls Club, where she had begun working part-time, that helped her through.

"The staff members at the Boys and Girls Club saw that I wasn't acting my normal way, and they picked me up right away," she said.

Shantelle Williams, of Milwaukee, similarly relayed the emotional anguish of seeing her father leave the family to support a drug habit.

"I was Daddy's little girl, so his love was all I knew," she said. "When he left it affected my relationship with my family and my mom."

She credited her mother for putting her and her brother in the Boys and Girls Club.

"I didn't know much about it, but I knew it was something positive," she said. "There, I discovered family and lasting friendships."

In the crowd was Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker, who later gave a speech in which she described the values of volunteerism, teamwork and perseverance that she said the Boys and Girls Club instills in kids.

"Being here today I am surrounded by the young men and women who have learned these important principles at such a young age and it is inspiring," she said. "I look around the room and see these young Wisconsinites and I think Wisconsin is in for some really amazing things in the future from these young people."

Ultimately, Williams of Milwaukee was named the winner, meaning she will now go on to compete in the Midwest regional competition. The winner of that competition will be one of five contestants of other regions to compete for the national award.

Afterwards, the entire delegation of contestants walked over to the Capitol to meet with state legislators.