Jorge Ayon Gutierrez was in tears as he accepted his award Saturday as “Youth of the Year'' by the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands.
Standing at the podium, the 17-year-old looked out at his family and thanked everyone for being there.
Gutierrez immigrated from Mexico with his mother at age 1 and grew up without a father.
He joined the South Omaha Boys and Girls Club as somewhere safe to go after school. Gutierrez earned his title after sharing his story in the clubs' annual speech competition.
In his speech, Gutierrez said his mother is the one who brought him to the club after friends recommended it.
He developed an interest in cooking. Volunteering in the club's kitchen is what kept him there, he said, and he dreams of owning his own restaurant someday.
“My mother might not be able to teach me about running a restaurant,'' he said, “but she can teach me how to cook.''
Gutierrez was one of six teenagers from the Omaha-Council Bluffs area who graced the podium at Omaha's Woodmen Tower and told their stories of trial and triumph.
Ivan Gilreath, president and CEO of the clubs, said the competition is the perfect chance to show off their members.
“It's about how strong and smart our members are, and it's great to showcase that,” he said.
The teenagers originally were nominated by their local clubs based on attendance, community involvement and grades in school. Each won a local competition before Saturday's event.
This year, five girls and one boy competed, each having faced difficulties in life.
Haley Banks, 17, of Carter Lake and Cameron Sada-Schlotfeld, 17, of Council Bluffs spoke of growing up with domestic violence.
“I am going to college for psychology, and then I will get my doctorate to help families like mine get past their violence,” Banks said. “I want to help others get to their happy ending.”
Jordyn Henry, 16, of north Omaha talked of moving from California at a young age and how the club got her involved in community service.
Allysia Holm-Peoples, 16, of the Mount View club shared her story of moving from Arizona and her hardships with racism.
“My dad always talked a lot about civil rights to me,” she said. “Martin Luther King Jr. was an inspiration for my speech.”
Emmalee Shields, 14, of the Westside club talked about her struggles communicating.
“The club has made me come out of my shell and talk to people and learn to be more outgoing,” she said.
Participants were scored by six judges from the Omaha area.
Scores were based in part on home and family life, moral character, community involvement and obstacles overcome.
Gutierrez, who attends South High School, will go to the state competition March 7 in Lincoln.
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