Boys & Girls Club names Youth of the Year
Two years after joining the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area, Maria Calle has been selected as this year’s Youth of the Year.
She takes the reins from her friend Jason Tharpe, who was named Youth of the Year last year. “He brought me to the club,” Calle recalled in an interview earlier this week. “And I’ve spent every day here since.”
Calle, 16, said she loves interacting with younger kids, especially in the arts and crafts room. But she says the club has helped her in her own respect. “[The club] has given me a lot of help when I need to do homework on the computer or need a quiet place to study or read,” she said. Her most challenging class is math, but she says tutors at the club have helped her pass with flying colors.
She’s also an active member of the Keystone Club and put together a coat drive in just two weeks last winter. It was her dad, Marcos, who inspired her action. “There’s a homeless man who we always see passing our house,” Calle said. “It wasn’t snowing yet, but it was so cold that there was frost in the windows. All he had was a thin jacket.”
Marcos ran outside with an old coat from his closet in hand. And it got his daughter thinking as temperatures plummeted. “It made me think that there were probably more people in need of a coat,” she said. Soon after, she partnered with the Keystone Club and placed boxes around Bellport High School to collect coats and sweatshirts. “People even brought in summer clothes that we gave to [the Lighthouse Mission],” she said.
The coat drive was so successful that she ended up with three boxes and four overflowing bags, and she hopes to keep it up next year as a high school senior.
The soft-spoken teen also helped to organize a bus to Washington, D.C. for the March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration in support of tighter gun control that took place on March 24. Teen program director Ana Arias, one of Calle’s mentors at the club, said it was an inspiring effort. “It was an opportunity for our teens to let their voices be heard,” she said. “And to participate in something bigger than Bellport or Long Island. This encompasses the entire nation.”
Calle said she felt compelled to march because schools should be safe. “I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have guns, but there should be stricter laws to get one,” she said.
Believe it or not, there was a time not too long ago when Calle never would have spoken out. “Before — you can ask anyone — I used to be quiet,” she said. “[The club] helped give me a voice.”
Later this month, Calle will be joined by Arias in Albany for a statewide meeting of other Boys & Girls Club honorees in a competition. She’ll be interviewed by a panel of judges and will also recite a three-minute speech from memory, drawn from three essays she had to write in order to receive the award. “[Maria] is resilient,” Arias said. “She’s had an interesting year and never let anything stop her from accomplishing her goals. She’s a great role model for our younger students and works hard at setting priorities.”
Calle, who dreams of becoming a traveling nurse (to aid underserved communities), was described by Arias as ‘caring.’ “She’s willing to see beyond and past herself at the needs of others,” she said.
The club’s director, Sybil Mimy Johnson, said Calle is all-around. “She’s a compassionate leader, an artist, and very committed to civic engagement,” Johnson said. “Everything a Youth of the Year should be.”
When Calle returns from Albany, she will also be tasked with speaking in front of the crowd at the club’s annual Beach Ball fundraiser, scheduled this year for June 23. She will also spend the summer as an intern at the club, working directly with youth programs.
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