By Anna-Claire Terry
The 2015 Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year Awards breakfast was held at the Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center on Friday.
Members of Boys & Girls Clubs and their parents from all over Alabama gathered to listen to Kendall Simmons, recognized for being a former Auburn University and NFL great, give a motivational speech.
Simmons, a Ripley, Miss. native, was a member of the Auburn University football team from 1997-2002. He was named First-Team All-SEC in 2000 and 2001. After graduating from Auburn University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in graphic design, he was the first round draft pick of the Pittsburg Steelers in the 2002 NFL draft.
Simmons spoke on the importance of setting goals and surrounding oneself with positivity. Simmons told finalists if they have constant chaos in their lives, they will look in the mirror and see chaos.
“If you want your dreams to come true, you’re talking about discipline,” Simmons said. “Basically, how bad do you want it?”
Simmons used adversity he has faced in his life and career to illustrate the importance of determination. Simmons played in the NFL for eight years, underwent 14 surgeries and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in only his second year in the league.
“People are going to tell you ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Why don’t you find something else?’” Simmons warned.
According to Simmons, it all boils down to how hard young people are willing to work for their dreams.
Awards were announced by Joe Ethier, director of Organizational Development and Terri Woolfolk, director of Academic Success of the Boys & Girls Club.
“It goes without saying that everyone who competed in this competition is a winner. These individuals truly represent the best of the young people we serve throughout the state of Alabama,” Ethier said.
Thirteen finalists represented different regions of the Boys & Girls Club, including Akebalan Y. Etzioni of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County.
Military Youth of the Year was awarded to Isaiah Lewis of Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base Youth Program.
Four finalists were selected for the 2015 Youth of the Year: Anitra Haynes, of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lake Martin Area, third runner-up; Cameron A. Taylor of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Alabama, second runner-up; Jacara S. Moore of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Wiregrass, first runner-up and Kelsie N. Kelley of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama, winner.
Kelley said it was a remarkable experience just to have the opportunity to be at the breakfast.
“I am who I am because of the Boys & Girls Club. I am a club kid, and I will continue to be a part of the organization for every part of my life,” Kelley said.
Other finalists present were Katelyn D. Battles, Joseph L. Chillous, Jr., Trinity J. Elston, Moesha A Moncrieffe, Mariah T. Moore, Cameron W. Rutherford and Kendal D. Tucker.