Optimism. I didn't know what that word meant until I had to write an essay about it for a college scholarship application. My mom has been a single mother for most of my life, and I grew up without my father. In eighth grade, my half-sister passed away. I wasn't a good student and didn't care about school. Understanding what it meant to be optimistic was difficult when all I'd experienced were hardships.
My mentor at the Boys & Girls Club, Ms. Desiree, explained to me what optimism is. Am I optimistic? As I began writing the scholarship essay, I realized that I am. I look toward the future, not the past. There is so much I want to accomplish. I have the Club to thank for that.
Ten years ago, I walked through the door of the Boys & Girls Club of Huntington County for the first time. It's the place where I learned how to become a leader and to care about my community. It's also a huge reason I can call myself an optimist today.
Opening Doors to Optimism & Opportunity
As I think about the reasons I have to be optimistic, the Club has given me many.
The Club connected me to a mentor in my community named Don. During the past four years, he has taught me most of the things a father would teach a son and how to grow as a person.
The Club offered me my first job, where I've learned how to become reliable.
The Club exposed me to all the paths and possibilities that were open to me. Without my Club mentor Desiree, I probably wouldn't be going to college. She helped me find scholarships to make it a reality.
Because of the Club, I went on a plane for the first time and traveled across the U.S. for Keystone Club
conferences. Keystone Club is a leadership program for teens that focuses on how to be successful in school, careers and community service. As the Keystone president at my Club this year, I've grown as a leader. It prepared me for life after high school.
The Club has played a big role in just about every good thing that has happened in my life. I wouldn't be the person or leader I am today without the Boys & Girls Club.
Next Stop: College Graduate & Clothing Designer
After graduation, I'll be attending Ivy Tech Fort Wayne, where I plan to study business. My dream is to create my own clothing brand. Growing up, my mom couldn't afford nice clothes for us. We didn't have money for brand-name jeans or shoes. I never got to be like all the other kids who wore Nike, Adidas and Under Armor. I started working to afford nicer clothes. It has inspired me to want to start a clothing business and work with designers to create my own line.
In addition to my career, I want to help struggling families and teens experiencing challenges like my family and I faced when I was a kid.
A Message for the Class of 2021
You might be wondering what I wrote in that college scholarship application about optimism. It is the same belief and advice I would offer my fellow graduates in the Class of 2021 and all of us who are setting out into the world: Never give up. Never give up on your goals. We are here as human beings to change the world. Each and every one of us has a gift. Everyone can change the world in their own way. Work toward what you want. When you face struggles, which you certainly will, get back up and push through them. One of my favorite actors and Club alumni is Denzel Washington. I love how he says fall down seven times, get back up eight.
Tell yourself every day when you wake up that it is going to be a good day.
Open the Door to Graduation for More Club Kids Like Caden
Before COVID-19, 1 in 6 kids didn't graduate on time. As learning losses, food insecurity and mental health issues increase, more and more kids are falling behind. Kids have had to give up so much during the past year; graduation shouldn't be another thing they lose. Your donation to Boys & Girls Clubs of America
will give Club kids like Caden access to the safe environment, learning devices, homework assistance and positive adult influences they need to graduate — and open doors to a lifetime of opportunities that may not otherwise be possible.
Thank you for holding the door open to help more kids achieve the great futures they deserve.