Local girl vies for Youth of the YearFeb 03, 2023 09:30AM ● By Shaun Delliskave
Yoaltici Espericueta presented with a $2,000 scholarship check for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. (Photo courtesy Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake)
Several years ago, Yoaltici Espericueta had just moved to Utah and her family was facing hard times. Her father was in jail, and her mom always worked to make ends meet. Angry and depressed, the youth searched for a place to fit in when a neighbor suggested she check out the local Boys & Girls Club. Fast forward to today, and now Espericueta is being considered for a national Youth of the Year award.
“Initially, I didn’t want to go, but that changed as I walked into the teen side, which was full of teens all getting along and talking to each other. I felt as if I was back in California surrounded by family reuniting,” Espericueta said.
Now in its 76th year, the Youth of the Year program honors awe-inspiring young people on their path to great futures. As the Greater Salt Lake Youth of the Year, Espericueta will serve as an ambassador for all teens in the Greater Salt Lake area and receive a $2,000 college scholarship from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake.
To be considered for the award, youth must show initiative and leadership. The Hillcrest High School student involves herself in a myriad of different projects.
“I have been involved in mock trials at school, as well as the Earth Club, I have taken part in reproductive rights marches, I have personally reached out to representatives in order to voice my agreeing or disagreeing with laws or actions they have taken. I don’t try to base what I believe on a specific area or time; I like to stay up-to-date on the world and what is happening. I really do things because they’re the good I want in the world,” Espericueta said.
Espericueta has been described by her teachers as dedicated—she has ambitions to become a lawyer or politician and is passionate about getting involved in her community. She has been elected twice as president of the Keystone Club, a teen group dedicated to leadership and community service. According to the Boys & Girls Club, “She has been an outstanding leader because of her ability to listen to others’ ideas, contemplate them, and make her decisions with kindness.”
“I am involved in our Keystone Club, having taken on the role of president in this. This club is a program focusing on developing leadership and community involvement. I am involved with the community at the Boys & Girls Club. I have made and continue to make friends here, and I like the staff, which are a few reasons to keep coming back. So much as it has become part of my routine,” Espericueta said.
In her speech on the impact of the Boys & Girls Club on her life, Espericueta shared her story. Her father spent time in jail during her childhood, and she felt it set her on a path of anger. She felt isolated and couldn’t find friends who understood her. Finally, her parents confronted her about her anger and behavior; it served as a wake-up call that she needed to find a way to change. When she came to the Boys & Girls Club, she found friends like her. Other Hispanic children, other oldest sisters who felt responsible for their siblings, and other kids who felt like they did not fit in. It allowed her to feel unconditional support. She credits the staff with pushing her to improve academically and personally. Now she is ready to take on college and the battle of making her community a better place for everyone however she can.
This spring, Espericueta will compete against other Utah club winners to vie for the state title. If named the state winner, she will be awarded an additional $2,500 college scholarship and the chance to compete for the regional title. Six youths, including five regional winners and a military youth winner, will advance to the Regional Youth of the Year event to compete for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Pacific Regional Youth of the Year title. Then the Pacific Regional winner will move on to National Youth of the Year, where the winner will receive an additional scholarship of $50,000.
“It is just an honor to be chosen from all the other candidates. It is a big commitment and to be chosen is an amazing opportunity to use my platform to help other people and share the ideas and the principles I consider to be important,” Espericueta said.
In the meantime, Espericueta hopes to help those starting in the Boys & Girls Clubs to take advantages of all the opportunities that the clubs offer. Furthermore, she seeks to advise the younger members of the clubs.
“Don’t let fear consume you,” Espericueta said. “Being so young, people are so insecure, often stopping them from doing new things in life and the club. I have seen many of my peers lower themselves by giving in to what their friends like or want to do, and they don’t reach their potential of who they are and can be.”