NC Youth of the Year
Emanuel Acosta: 2015 North Carolina Youth of the Year
Emanuel “Manny” Acosta, has been on a 12 year journey that has resulted in his selection as the North Carolina Youth of the Year, a journey that included the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County, which he shares really changed the course of his life.
Emanuel entered elementary school as a shy boy who only spoke Spanish at the time. He struggled to learn English, which further contributed to his shyness. Often coming home and just lying around his house, his dad took notice and encouraged him to really work to make more of his childhood. He remembers his dad telling him that “the choice is yours to be happy.”
Emanuel took that encouragement to heart and began to seek out opportunities to improve his situation, which included joining the Boys & Girls Club before starting high school. He recalls first being impressed by the Club facility and then the Club staff. He allowed the Power Hour program to help him improve his grades, Career Launch program to help him gain work skills for the future and Smart Moves program to help him make good decisions regarding substance abuse and sexual activity. He joined the Keystone Club and learned to give back through community service projects – he has provided 446 hours of service so far! He is currently a paid employee of the club as a Junior Staff, where he has learned to be a mentor to the younger members and lead program activities. The Club is not the only place where he has pursued opportunities to improve himself.
He attends Henderson County Early College where he takes courses at the high school and community college. In spring 2016, he will graduate with a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree. His current weighted GPA is 4.2, ranking him 12th of 39 students in his very select class. Emanuel shares that he now tries to complete most of his homework at school, to leave plenty of time to be at the Club. He said he could never stop going to the Club “because it is one of the very few places where I can be happy and feel safe after school.” He goes on to share that “I use the club as the main motivation to keep doing my homework and studying. Since my freshman year, my grades have gone to A’s and B’s.” Emanuel currently is planning to seek a criminal justice degree after graduation and pursue a career in some level of law enforcement.
Emanuel said of the state title. “My Club believed in me, and this belief has helped me do extraordinary things. It has stretched me and challenged me. I’m more confident every day and more prepared to represent my Club well.”
Destiny Blake: 2015 North Carolina Military Youth of the Year
Destiny Blake has been attending the Tolson Youth Activities Center on Fort Bragg for the past three years. She shares that she has learned respect, discipline, and adaptation as part of a military family, but it is a lifestyle that also comes with some challenges.
Destiny comments that the hardest part of growing up in the military is the moving. She has already lived in Delaware, Germany, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas and finally moved to North Carolina in the 4th grade. Her father has been deployed during many of these moves, so it has put a strain on their relationship due to those deployments. She wishes she could be with him more often. The youth center has been a place to help fill some of those gaps and provide additional support.
She has been a very active member of the Tolson Youth Activities Center over the years and currently serves as President of the Keystone Club. She has participated in the Polar Plunge as a volunteer helper to raise money for charity and volunteer at the local Food Bank. As a leader, she is also consistently engaged with various projects such as the organizing the Easter Egg Carnival, visiting Wounded Warriors, collecting food bank donations, planning the Haunted House and supporting the Angel Tree program. Eric Pugh, one of the professional staff at the center, states that “Destiny is a born leader and positive role model in our program, and she is competent in many ways as a leader.” While she maintains her involvement at the youth center, she is just as active in academics.
Destiny is a junior at Massey Hill Classical High School where she is enrolled in a college preparatory curriculum. Her current weighted GPA is 4.15, ranking her 20th of 79 students in her class. She is very active in school being and a gifted dancer. Destiny was cast as the lead in “The Piano Lesson” and has taught parents and guests a dance routine based on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” She was also recognized as a member of the National Honor Society, selected to the All-County Dance, and honored as a Grand Prize Winner of the Dreamville Foundation’s Essay Contest.
Destiny plans to attend the University of North Carolina Greensboro to obtain a degree in pharmacy. She comments “I believe that everyone should be given the same opportunities and treated fairly in every aspects of life, especially education. The kids that live in the United States of America are lucky because their education from grades K-12 is paid, but other kids overseas are not so lucky.” Clearly, the military life she has experienced has given her a global perspective on the lives of children. We are proud to recognize her as your 2015 Military Youth of the Year!