Vanden teen wins Youth of the Year 2014 honor

Originally published in The Vacaville Reporter on January 22, 2015 By Kimberly Fu .
Vanden teen wins Youth of the Year 2014 honor
With nerves of steel Thursday, four Vacaville teens shared painful personal experiences in a public forum in hopes of snaring a coveted honor, that of Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year.
With cheers and squeals, the hard-won title went to Brienna Eaton, a 15-year-old Vanden High School sophomore and soccer player.
“I’m really proud to have been chosen,” she said, expressing surprise with the win. “And I’m glad my peers were so supportive of me.”
The bubbly teen, together with Julian Howard, David Quintero and AnaKaren Zanabria, had spent hours refining the speeches about a tough time in their lives and how the Boys & Girls Club impacted them.
Brienna spoke about a parental rift and a motor vehicle accident that critically injured her father, now healed. The accident sent her sister’s confidence, and her own, on a downslide, she said, and it was a hard thing to deal with. Then came the Boys & Girls Club in eighth grade to reel her back in.
The club “gave me a place to breathe,” she said, to just be herself. She took on leadership roles, immersed herself in teamwork and began advising younger members.
“I realized here, I made a difference,” she said.
Julian, 18 and a senior at Will C. Wood High School, talked about his mother’s drug addiction and how it tore his family apart. He moved in with an aunt who later suffered from breast cancer. It was a tough time, he said.
The youth wants to stop gang violence and become a leader.
“Everyone has hopes and wishes, but I plan on turning my hopes, dreams and wishes into reality,” he said.
David, a 17-year-old Vacaville High School junior, spoke about being raised by a single mom. His grades were way down, he said, and the club helped him to jumpstart them.
“I focused on the beauty ahead of me and not the troubles of my past,” he said.
Family woes also gave AnaKaren a pause for thought.
The 16-year-old Vacaville High School student shared a period of depression after her grandmother left. The club, she explained, boosted her grades and herself. It also helped identify the perfect college — University of California, Irvine, where she will study Criminal Justice en route to a policing career.
“I would like to thank the club for helping me become a young, responsible lady,” she said.
Judges thanked the candidates for their courage in public speaking and encouraged all to continue following their paths to success.
“You can do what it is you want to do if you go out there and work hard,” emphasized Supervisor John Vasquez.
Vacaville City Manager Laura Kuhn agreed.
“Anything is possible,” she said. “The only limit is what you think you can’t do.”
Brienna will next compete for the state title.