Catherine Burnes, a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Manchester, was named the state Youth of the Year on Wednesday, after being chosen from six candidates from around the state, including two from clubs in Greater Nashua.
Kaylee Murray, a Nashua High School North senior, and Julia Arciere, a Souhegan High School senior, were also finalists after winning the awards at their respective clubs.
The finalists spent all day in Concord on Wednesday, first meeting with Gov. John Lynch, whose father ran a Boys & Girls Club in Massachusetts, along with other legislative leaders at the Statehouse. They also had one-on-one interviews with a panel of judges, including Lynch, Jerry Gappens, general manager of NH Motor Speedway, and Amanda Grappone, CEO of the Grappone Cos., who chose the state Youth of the Year based on those interviews and essays the teenagers wrote.
Burnes, 17, a junior at Manchester Central High School, received her award at the end of a ceremony at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.
Through her tears, Burnes thanked her family and the counselors at the Boys & Girls Club for supporting her from her first weeks at the club five years ago to preparing her Youth of the Year application this year.
“You’ve always stuck by me. I’ll never forget you. Thank you,” she said.
In March, Murray was named the Boys & Girls of Greater Nashua Youth of the Year, and Arciere was named the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley Youth of the Year.
Murray, 18, of Nashua, was named the local club’s Youth of the Year after beating out 11 other nominees. The award is given to one of the 12 members who win monthly awards throughout the year for outstanding service to the club.
Murray, who will attend Fitchburg State College to study film production next fall, has been going to the Boys & Girls Club since she started high school. She said she was drawn by the acceptance and compassion she saw in the people at the Boys & Girls Club.
“The club had a lot to offer me. They’re just very caring people there,” she said.
Murray said going to the club has helped build her self-confidence and put her on a path toward success. Murray said the club has helped her through some difficult times, including spending the past seven years living with a single mother working two jobs. She is now ranked 12th in her class.
“The Boys & Girls Club has opened my eyes to a world of acceptance and compassion. Basically to a world beyond myself,” she said.
In addition to working with younger members on their homework after school, Murray volunteers in the club’s college preparatory program for younger members.
Murray is involved with the high school’s TV studio production program and is also captain of the varsity lacrosse team, as well as being a member of the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. Through her involvement with other school programs, she has spent time volunteering in the community.
Articulate, intelligent, compassionate and selfless were the words Tracey Jackson, the club’s individual services director, used to describe Murray.
“I think she’s just a part of the club,” Jackson said. “She’s a good influence on the other kids. She’s a proactive teenager, which you don’t find often times.”
She said she hopes someday to do a film about the stories she saw at the Boys & Girls Club during her time there.
“Maybe one day my films will be shown in Boys & Girls Clubs everywhere,” she said Wednesday.
Arciere, 18, moved to Amherst in the sixth grade after her mother died. The club, along with her sister, who is also her guardian, helped her grow up a lot and take notice of her community and the wider world, she said.
“I was in a bad place when I first moved here,” Arciere said. “They’ve really helped widen my view of the world. It’s made me realize how much a part of myself the community is.”
An active member of Keystone, the Boys & Girls Club’s teen community service club, and as a youth counselor for the club’s after-school program, Arciere also volunteers at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter and for the Special Olympics, she said. Next year the Souhegan senior will enter Wheelock College in Boston to study child psychology. She hopes to work with children in war-torn countries who have missed out on their childhoods, she said.
Burnes won a $1,000 scholarship, in addition to the $1,000 scholarship she won for being named the youth of the year at the Manchester club. She will now move on to the regional competition in New York City and vie for a $10,000 scholarship. The winner of that competition will move on to nationals, held in Washington, D.C., where a $50,000 scholarship is at stake. She would also get to meet President Barack Obama.
At the Boys & Girls Club, Burnes was a member of the Keystone Club. She also served on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council and the Manchester Violence Prevention Council.
The award is about more than just scholarships though, according to Gina Rotondi, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs.
“Tonight is an important night to celebrate all the youth who have made it this far and to recognize all the contributions they have made in their communities and their clubs,” she said.
The process to be named the state’s youth of the year is intensive, and begins with an essay and interview process at the local level.