Eight years ago, I walked through the door of the Boys & Girls Club for the first time. I was in third grade, and my parents were going through a divorce. I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere. Within a week of being a member of the Rochester Branch of Boys & Girls Club of Thurston County, it became the place I was meant to be — where it didn't feel like the rest of my life was falling apart.
Today, as a senior about to graduate from high school, I realize that walking through the Club door all those years ago changed my life. While the days since have been filled with obstacles, the Club has given me the strength and confidence to persevere through anything.
Overcoming the Odds to Graduate
In fifth grade, kids bullied me at school. They made fun of how I talk because I have a condition called apraxia that makes speaking difficult. I found myself staying quiet and not using my voice. But Club staff told me what I have to say is important and encouraged me to share my story no matter what.
In middle school, I struggled with body image and self-confidence. As a kid from a single-parent household, I couldn't afford fancy clothes and started comparing myself to others. But Club staff told me I was perfect as I am and exposed me to the SMART Girls program
, where I learned about healthy habits and that I didn't need to be skinnier, taller or dress differently to be my best self.
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare form of arthritis that causes pain and fusion over time in my spine. People told me I wouldn't be able to live a fulfilling life because of the pain. I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to give up everything I love doing, like cheerleading, marching band, color guard and student council. But my Club mentor taught me I should never let my disease or any obstacle hold me back from growing into who I'm meant to be.
That brings me to today. Every kid has missed out on some portion of their education and life due to the pandemic during the past year. I haven't had a single in-person class during my senior year of high school. I will never get to tell my children about going to the senior prom. But despite all we've lost, I've also gained a lot, too. I've become stronger mentally and realize there is nothing I can't do.
A Message of Hope to the Class of 2021
While we haven't had the high school experience we wanted, we've also learned and grown in ways we never could have imagined. We've proven that we won't stop at anything to achieve our goals. After graduation, there will continue to be obstacles we'll have to jump over, but because we've gotten through this, we can do anything. Don't listen to anyone who says you can't do something. You can do anything. Even the obstacles we face are there to help us learn and grow. Keep showing up and moving forward despite the challenges, and we'll go as far as we want.
Next Stop: Great Future
I always wanted to go to college, but my path to get there wasn't clear. Because of the Club, I went on college tours in Washington, Oregon and Idaho and was able to find my future school. I'll be starting at Eastern Washington University in the fall as a child studies major. I would never have seen the school, stepped foot onto the campus or applied without the Boys & Girls Club. In addition to my high school diploma, I’m also graduating with my Associate of Arts degree from Centralia College.
The Club also opened the door to understanding what I want to do with my life. They gave me my first job as a program staff to mentor younger kids. I now know I want to dedicate my career to working with children as a child life specialist.
The Club has opened countless doors for me and given me opportunities I would never have received anywhere else. The people I've met here and the skills I've built have changed my life.
My next stop is college, a career helping children, and a great future.
Make Graduation Possible for More Kids Like Alizabeth
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 kids like Alizabeth 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.