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There is still time to apply to be a 2021 Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassador!

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There is still time to apply to be a 2021 Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassador!

By Leah Silverberg, STEM Projects and Field Outreach Associate at the Afterschool Alliance, and Juliana Montell, a student at The Boys & Girls Club of Kennebec Valley. 

Applications close June 30 to become one of the next Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassadors. Each year, we train a group of young people as afterschool advocates. As part of their ambassadorship, they receive training on how to talk about their afterschool experiences in the context of the national afterschool field and guidance on how to advocate to policymakers using their afterschool stories. Through monthly calls, participants learn about the many ways to share their stories to affect change, from writing letters to the editor or their congressional members to digital advocacy on social media. The Youth Ambassador program culminates with an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Afterschool for All Challenge in the spring, where they meet with their congressional representatives and offer remarks at the Afterschool for All Showcase on Capitol Hill!

Youth ages 13+ can apply by submitting anything from a written essay or poem to a piece of artwork to a video or podcast—whatever media allows youth to best express themselves and how they’re feeling! All submissions qualify youth for the chance to win a $40 Amazon gift card and authors and artists whose pieces are published in full by the Afterschool Alliance will receive a $75 stipend.

Check out this recent submission by Juliana Montell from Kennebec Valley, ME!

What The Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley means to me

Teens everywhere from cities both large and small are tormented daily by choice, disappointment, and uncertainty, but at my Club, I have found the strength, grit, and confidence to rise above these challenging decisions. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley in small-town Gardiner, Maine is the “home” to more than250 rural youth. Some kids have literally learned how to walk in these halls (having been in the program since they were eight weeks old and continuing on through until they received their high school diplomas). Kids are signed up for the program for a plethora of reasons, but the true magic of what keeps them there is the essence of what The Boys & Girls Club is truly about.

What keeps us coming has nothing to do with the “stuff.” We love The Club because it’s pure. It’s kids in their rawest forms receiving the love and comfort that all youth need regardless of their backgrounds, financial status or unpredictable behaviors. At The Club, we learn that our environment is everything, that we can be ourselves and be celebrated for it, that we can develop leadership when we once found solace spectating, and that we can create family without even looking for it. The unbreakable relationships made at a Boys & Girls Club support us when we are weak and celebrate with us when we succeed. These relationships don’t stay inside the walls of The Club. They become the foundations of what will guide us through life. I depend on my relationships with the staff at my Club to keep me motivated and inspired. They are true examples of individuals who can guide and advocate for my well-being.

The experiences at The Club keep me interested, involved and challenged. These are opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance or courage to take part in. From dancing on stage during the Dancing with the Staff show in front of an audience of 300 community members to now being Vice President of my Keystone Club where I have volunteered over 1,700 hours of community service, I can always count on The Club to keep me engaged and constantly finding myself as an adolescent through play and exploration rather than through the unhealthy alternatives many youth turn to. My commitment to The Club has also rewarded me with real-world experiences such as being named Youth of the Year to helping me become employed. They have taught me that hard work and integrity pay off and that for that, I am extremely grateful.

Attending The Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley has not only benefited me, but it gave my mother and sisters the same sense of love and care that they needed as well. For my single mother, it provided her with something that she never was able to feel before, trust. When my sisters and I are at The Club, my mother knows that we are getting every possible opportunity that she wishes she could provide for us herself. She knows and believes that we are safe, that we have role models and that all of our basic needs are being met. Our time at The Club can give her the opportunity she needs to work to financially meet the challenges of providing for four children on her own. This couldn’t be accomplished without my Club’s consistent support and reliable care. My family is safer, stronger, and functional because of our extended Club family.

I speak on behalf of the 11.3 million youth who have already come to rely on their Club’s help and support. Our stories are all different but kids like me who have experienced The Club for all it is and all it can be, know that it is more than a place to be, but an opportunity to be had. Teens like myself who attend a Boys & Girls Club have a better chance of recognizing better possibilities when faced with peer pressures. They will always know where their bellies can unquestionably be fed and will always understand that when they feel lost they should never keep their struggles silent. In Gardiner, Maine and all throughout this world there’s a young person who needs a push, a helping hand, a second chance, nurture, and confidence. I am truly blessed to have found this vital force to navigate my great future at my Boys & Girls Club.

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There is still time to apply to be a 2021 Afterschool Alliance Youth Ambassador!

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