Club member Jaylen W. talks about the people who cheer him on, which now includes Ms. Oprah Winfrey, as Jaylen earned a spot in the inaugural Oprah Winfrey Leadership Scholars program.
When I first started researching colleges to study my dream major – civil engineering – I didn’t imagine Oprah Winfrey getting involved.
Yet there I was, this summer, on a Zoom call with 14 other graduating high school students as we learned that we were the recipients of the inaugural Oprah Winfrey Leadership Scholars (OWLS) program. We had logged on thinking this was the announcement of the finalist round and next steps, and had two surprises when Ms. Winfrey herself appeared and said, “You’re already in!”
I was flabbergasted. My mom – a lifelong fan of Ms. Winfrey and her show – was sitting next to me, and I think she was even more excited than I was, which is saying something.
Ms. Winfrey urged us to claim this moment, saying, “This didn’t happen to you because you were lucky. You earned it. Everybody’s here because you prepared for this moment.” And I know my mom and my second family at my Boys & Girls Club felt pride when Ms. Winfrey followed up with: “Everybody has somebody that has shown them this is possible.”
And so I’ve started my freshman year at the University of Alabama in Huntsville as an “OWL,” with Oprah Winfrey in my corner.
But I’m still giving back to the place that opened so many doors of opportunity to me, including this one – my Boys & Girls Club.
Click here to watch Oprah Winfrey address Jaylen and the other OWLS.
I’ve been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Alabama for 13 years.
My favorite thing about spending time at the Club is how many different types of people I get to meet, from friends to staff. I’ve met so many mentors here, like Mr. Joe – I first met him when I needed a tutor for my Spanish class, and now he’s one of the closest mentors I have.
Over 13 years, the Club and staff have become family to me. Mr. Wynn, Coach Calvin, Ms. Liz. They’ve seen me grow up over time and change. It’s a home away from home.
My mom often says the old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” and the Club is living proof of that.
In addition to relationships, the Club helped me determine what I want to do in life as I began figuring out a potential career path.
Ever since I was little, I loved to build – model railways, LEGO sets (and my all-time favorite were Thomas the Tank Engine sets). As I grew, I moved onto more complex models – cars, robots. Eventually, I moved onto architectural models – bridges, dams, roads. Thanks to our Club’s STEM lab, I was able to explore my interests in building and problem-solving and realize how these interests could apply to the workforce.
When I found out that you could make a career out of building, I knew it was the job choice for me. What I love about engineering is that you can pursue something you’re interested in, all while helping others through your work.
While it’s obviously a big surprise when suddenly you have Oprah Winfrey as a champion, thanks to my family and my Club, I’ve been fortunate to have incredible people who believe in me for some time.
I like to call them “human angels” – they are with me every step of the way. Any time I feel upset or down on my luck, I think about them and what they’ve done for me.
It motivates me to keep going, keep moving forward, and learn what I can and teach what I can.
I want people to know that there are always people who believe in you – no matter how down on your luck you are. Keep looking for your human angels.
This whole experience – and I’m sure my years to come in the OWLS program, has been an incredible reminder that when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it. And when people who believe in you are in your corner, there’s nothing you can’t do.