A young man who is determined to give back by helping younger kids was selected Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin.
Chris Holling, 17, a junior at Elgin High School, was among three contestants Thursday night who gave speeches on what the club means to them, along with submitting six letters of recommendation, writing an essay on the importance of postsecondary education, and logging community service hours.
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Anastaza Hicks and Jhaneice Johnson, respectively a freshman and a senior at Larkin High School, also participated in the competition. Chris will move onto the Youth of the Year state competition later this month.
"I couldn't believe it. It was an overwhelming experience," Chris said.
The youths shared stories of overcoming adversity. Chris talked about how he felt as a 3-year-old, when his father left and started another family.
"Basically, at young age, it left me very upset and confused. I felt as if I did something wrong," he said.
He was an outsider in middle school and didn't forge true friendships until he joined the club, which also helped him deal with the loss of his relationship with his father, he said.
Chris was impressive in several ways, said judge Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick's Pizza & Pub in Elgin.
He shared a great experience of learning from someone younger, and he spoke with enthusiasm about wanting to continue giving back to the Boys & Girls Club in the future.
Overall, Chris presented himself very well, Sarillo said. "That really made the difference -- that he articulated himself well."
Chris mentors at the club and also volunteers at school for the environmental program Mighty Acorn and Link Crew, which provides positive role modeling for freshmen.
He is actively involved in theater, speech and volleyball. In the future, he might want to become a photography teacher or a theater technical director, he said.
Being a judge wasn't easy, Sarillo said.
"It was more difficult than I thought it would be, just from the emotional side," he said. "The stories really pull on your heartstrings. Honestly, I really wanted to help each one of them in some way."