Growing up in a family with mental health issues and learning disabilities, Karri Haiges been through a lot in her 18 years.
But the college-bound honor student and senior at Dundee-Crown High School would rather say she sometimes has had a hard day, but never a hard life.
Haiges, of Algonquin, has been named the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township's 2014 Youth of the Year, an honor that comes with a one-time, $5,000 college scholarship.
The award is given to a single club member based on his or her service to the club, community and family; academic success; moral character; life goals; poise and public speaking ability. It's the organization's highest honor and allows winners to compete at the state, regional and national levels.
"It's absolutely a totally amazing feeling," Haiges said. "To be able to say I'm the one who embodies what the club shows, it's really amazing."
An energetic, bubbly teen, Haiges will attend Illinois State University in the fall. Her goal is to become a special-education teacher and help people with learning disabilities.
"Working at the Boys and Girls Club, I see a lot of kids with a learning disability or with issues at home or something holding them back," she said.
Her decision to enter that field also was strongly influenced by her family, she said. Her father and older sister struggle with learning disabilities, she said. In addition, her mother is bipolar, her 11-year-old half sister has a short attention span, and a 4-year-old half sister, has a speech problem, she said.
Haiges mentioned some of these issues and her struggles with them in her speech at the youth competition. She also read her speech to Carpentersville trustees at a board meeting in which trustees honored her for her work.
When Haiges was 15, she moved out of her mother's house in Carpentersville to live with her grandmother because she wasn't getting along with her mother and needed a more supportive environment, she said. At home, she was not only called on to look after her siblings, but to also fix dinner and to do laundry, she said.
She struggled with the decision to leave because she initially felt as if she was abandoning her family. The teen later realized she couldn't help them until she helped herself.
While things aren't perfect with her mother now, their relationship has gotten better, she said.
The Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township in Carpentersville became a second home for Haiges, as it supported her through her struggles at home and became a source for positive reinforcement, she said. And she is giving back to the club that serves nearly 600 at-risk youth a day.
Haiges, a club member for 12 years, works as a junior staff member at the Perry Elementary School site in Carpentersville twice a week, where her responsibilities include planning activities for the kids, preparing their lunch and helping them with their homework.
She also donates a portion of her salary back to the club, said Amalia Woolf, the Carpentersville club's vice president of program services.
"We are very proud of Karri Haiges and everything that she has done and continues to do for her school, her family and with our community," Woolf said.
Haiges advanced to the state level of the competition in Springfield and while she didn't win there, she did secure an internship and eventual job with the Hope Institute for Children and Families. It's a live-in facility for children struggling with multiple developmental disabilities, including autism.
"I am extremely proud of her, she's worked very, very hard and all through her school years she's always been an overachiever trying to compensate," said her grandmother, Diane Haiges. "She has always done the extra credit and projects and always volunteered. She has worked very hard for her goal of being a special-education teacher."