Carpentersville teen named Boys and Girls Club 'Youth of the Year'

When Carpentersville resident Tony Guevara Jr. joined the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dundee Township four years ago, he found a second home.

He made friends with other members and bonded with staff members who became his extended family. He said he became stronger, friendlier and a better version of himself. And during what he calls an "all-time low" in his life, Tony said, the club's Teen Center served as his safe haven, free of judgment and filled with support.

Now 17, and a senior at Dundee-Crown High School, Tony was chosen among three finalists Thursday night to receive a $10,000 scholarship and the 2017 Youth of the Year award - the club's highest honor. He will travel to Bloomington this spring to compete for the state title against the winners from the 26 other local Boys and Girls Clubs in Illinois. The state Youth of the Year will advance to a regional competition, with a chance to move on to compete at the national level and a visit to the White House.

"The club has taught me to become a better person, a better leader," he said. "It changed my life for the better."

After graduation, Tony plans to attend Tribeca Flashpoint College in Chicago, where he will study computer art design. His goal is to become a recording artist, so he can make people happy with his music.

Standing before the audience during a ceremony at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, however, Tony admitted he had to overcome nearly a lifetime of adversity to get to where he is today.

Tony, who grew up in a single-parent home, was bullied and beaten up by his peers as a child and into middle school. Hoping for something different in high school, he said, he started getting involved with a "bad crowd."

At that point, Tony had been battling depression for years and attempted suicide several times. Then, he started getting help and began turning his life around, he said, largely thanks to the Boys and Girls Club and its staff members.

"When I went to the Teen Center and told them what happened, I was happy. They didn't judge me," he said. "Honestly, without the club, I don't know if I'd be here telling my story."

Tony's uncle, Marcial Cabral, said his nephew didn't always disclose his struggles to his family and often dealt with them internally.

"There was a lot of heartache. I'm glad he found the Boys and Girls Club to help him cope with his problems," said Cabral, whom Tony calls his father figure. "We're very proud of him."

The other two finalists honored during the ceremony were sophomore Tamiah Irving and junior Kajira Blunt, both Dundee-Crown students, who shared their stories with the audience as well. The club also recognized two runners-up also from Dundee-Crown: freshman Rebeca Lopez and sophomore Cinthia Macias.

Amalia Woolf, the club's vice president of program services, said the five members had to undergo a rigorous application process, which included interviews, essays and demonstration of exemplary leadership, to be considered for the award. The winner and other two finalists are chosen by a team of judges.

"It's nice to see that we are here to make a difference in their lives," she said, "but how much these kids teach us is amazing."

Eventually, Tony said he would like to return the Boys and Girls Club as a staff member, or possibly a director, to help other children and teens work through their problems.

"I want to be there for them when they don't have anybody to talk to, to help them become a better them, to push them to the limit, to tell them to reach for the stars," he said. "Anything is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself because you're the one who decides your future."

  Tony Guevara Jr. shakes the hand of Mark Krueger, Boys and Girls Clubs of Dundee Township board president, Thursday at the "Youth of the Year" awards banquet. Guevara earned a $10,000 scholarship. John Starks/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.