Standing before a packed room at the Boys & Girls Clubhouse of Sierra Vista, Bianca Lopez delivered an inspiring speech about her years with the local club and how those experiences have helped to shape her vision for the future.
Through the club, Lopez says she has learned valuable leadership and mentoring skills, self confidence and serves as a role model for the club’s younger members. A 15-year-old Buena High School sophomore, she is the Sierra Vista club’s 2016 Youth of the Year. Lopez was honored at the local club’s Great Futures Dinner Saturday evening where she presented her speech to a standing ovation.
“Thanks to the Boys & Girls Club of Sierra Vista, I overcame my challenges that made me the person I am today.” One of the greatest disappointments Lopez says she has faced is the absence of a father-figure in her life. She spoke of how the club helped to fill that void, how it became her second family. “My club gave me comfort, activities, love and safety. It gave me a family, a second father figure and a second home,” she said.
Lopez joined the club as a 5-year-old. Raised by a single mom - Patty Demeroto - Lopez says her mother’s decision to enroll her as a club member is the best thing she could have done. “My mom wanted me to have a safe and positive place to stay while she was at work. The club has been an amazing place for me. The staff helps us with homework, we learn how to play different sports and we are encouraged to give presentations and face challenges,” said Lopez who plans pursue a teaching career, with an emphasis in sports medicine.
“I want to use my sports medicine background to teach kids of all ages about healthy living and the importance of staying active,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from my club that it has given me confidence and made me the person I am today.”
One of Lopez’s greatest passions is working with the younger club members. “I love mentoring the younger children. I seem to have a special connection with kids and really enjoy teaching them,” she said.
Nathan Gauthier, also 15, is the club’s runner-up Youth of the Year and served as the evening’s master of ceremonies. Like Lopez, he joined the club at a young age and the two have become good friends, along with another long-time member, Jessica Warren.
“I’m sure we’ll all be life-long friends,” said Gauthier whose twin-sister, Brionna, is a club member as well. “We are exposed to so many great experiences here. The club has leadership and community service programs we participate in and the staff here has been a great influence for us.”
As the Sierra Vista club representative at the state competition, Lopez competed against other Boys & Girls Club members on April 12, 2016 in Phoenix for Arizona Youth of the Year. She was one of the state’s youngest club members. “Most of the the competitors were seniors,” said Lopez, who hopes to go through the state competition again, if she’s selected to represent Sierra Vista in the 2017 competition.
“I competed against seven other candidates while I was in Phoenix,” she said. “I had to present my three-minute speech, go through a 10-minute interview in front of five judges and I attended a senate hearing where I was recognized by Sen. Gail Griffin at the Arizona State Legislature. It was a very rewarding experience, something I’ll never forget,” she said.
Jay Hamwright, chief executive officer of the Sierra Vista club said, “Bianca (Lopez) is a remarkable young lady and we are honored to be part of her life and have an opportunity to help her grow.” Hamwright praised her leadership abilities and willingness to go above and beyond when it comes to volunteerism, club projects and programs.
Through her years with the club, Lopez has been a member of the Torch Club, a group dedicated to leadership and community service and she is the current Keystone president, the group responsible for community service projects. She also participates in the club’s sports program and volunteers at the club during the summer months.
No one is more proud of Bianca Lopez than her own mother, who was all smiles during Saturday evening’s program.
“The Boys & Girls Club has been a wonderful experience for Bianca,” said Demeroto after her daughter delivered her speech, which was presented from memory. “As a single mom, I have always worked and I knew she was in a good environment at the Boys & Girls Club. I’m so proud of all she’s accomplished through club and would recommend this program to everyone. It goes far beyond daycare. The Boys & Girls Club is a life-changing experience for these kids.”