The Youth of the Year event Tuesday night in Elgin featured slam poetry, a viola performance and a huge announcement: Judson University will give the winner a four-year scholarship beginning this year.
That was great news for Xavier Hare, a senior at Central School in Elgin who was selected by the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin to represent it at the state competition. The scholarship is valued at more than $100,000, said Judson's Director of Financial Aid Diana Winton.
"I'll probably go to Judson, then," said a stunned Xavier, 18, of Elgin, who wants to study art, network communications and business.
Xavier performed slam poetry for the audience at the Centre of Elgin, and recounted how a club staff member noticed that he could barely read when he joined at age 8. That's because he rarely attended school while being raised by his mother, who got addicted to drugs by a man who beat him and his brother, he said.
That staff member helped him learn and, within a month, he'd read his first book, he said. He eventually became a ward of the state and was adopted by his grandmother. His mother died of an overdose when he was 11, he said.
Xavier said he stopped going to the club for a few years and rejoined as an 8th grader. That's when the club became a second family as he made friends and became more involved through activities such as drama and the "passport to manhood" program that helps boys build character.
"Now being a senior being a part of the club is less about what it gives to me and more about what I can contribute to others," he said. "I want to give back. I want to change lives."
Antonio Delgado from Kimball Middle School got the Junior Youth of the Year award. Other nominees were Desmond Foster, a senior at Larkin High School who wants to become a chef; Kevin Perez, a senior at Elgin High School who plans to study music and performed on the viola; and Kimball Middle School students Abigail Casas, Cristian Cruz and Geovanny Lara.
Judge Mike Nutter, who serves on the club's board of directors, said choosing the winners was a difficult task because all the youths exemplified the values of the club. As for Xavier, "joining really changed him for the better, and he became a leader while he was there," Nutter said. "He articulated that really well in his speech and in the interview process."
Club Executive Director Cathy Russell said she expects the scholarships will be life-changing for Xavier and future winners. "There are so many of our Youths of the Year who have not had the resources to go to college," she said. "And now they can."