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Youth of the Year Laura Perez credits club with her success

: Laura Perez said the Boys & Girls Club of the South Coast area has served as her “second home” for 11 years. Perez, now a senior at San Clemente High School, has been coming to the club since she was 6. Photo by Jim Shilander
: Laura Perez said the Boys & Girls Club of the South Coast area has served as her “second home” for 11 years. Perez, now a senior at San Clemente High School, has been coming to the club since she was 6. Photo by Jim Shilander

By Jim Shilander

Laura Perez isn’t sure where she’d be if she hadn’t walked into the Boys & Girls Club of the South Coast Area at age 6. Now, at 17, she’s helping to make a difference in the lives of those coming into the club themselves.

Perez, now a senior at San Clemente High School, was honored Saturday at the club’s annual fundraising dinner and auction as the club’s Youth of the Year. She is one of 16 club members in the county to receive the honor. More than 42,000 children are active in the 16 clubs around the county. In San Clemente, the club serves an average of 350 children per day, with a membership base of 1,800.

Andy Brosche, the club’s director of operations, said Perez was chosen for the honor by staff on the strength of her grades and volunteer efforts inside the club.

“It has really changed me,” Perez said. “It helped me with school. Home is a small house with a big family, so here I received help. I developed more as a person. I matured faster with all the groups I joined.”

Perez said she began doing community service projects through the club at age 8. She is now a part of a leadership council at the club and has also coached younger club members in soccer. Perez is also now helping younger students with homework at the club in the same way she was helped as a youngster.

“It gives me a good feeling, because I was there one day, receiving help from someone. Now I get to help the younger ones,” Perez said.

Perez is also an active part of the club’s “Be Great, Graduate” program which provides academic support to high school students. Perez said the support she’s received through the club helped her to get through courses.

“It was the first thing that impacted my life when I was young,” she said. “They mentored me here, they encouraged me to take higher level classes and brought in individual tutors to help.”

Perez, the youngest of six siblings, hopes to become the first in her family to graduate from a university.

“We grew up all together, and we’re a very good family,” she said. “The only thing is we’re loud and so when it came to doing my homework, it felt like I couldn’t focus sometimes at home. When I came here, I found that place where I could get help and where I can focus. I was around with my friends as well. It made me feel comfortable.”

Donor Robert Harrison receives high-fives from Boys & Girls Club members for a pledge of support Saturday. Photo by Jim Shilander
Donor Robert Harrison receives high-fives from Boys & Girls Club members for a pledge of support Saturday. Photo by Jim Shilander

While her siblings have grown, Perez said, her family’s house remains a gathering spot for the whole family, including her young nieces and nephews. Sometimes, she said, it helped to walk just around the corner to the club to help her focus.

“This is basically my second home. This is where I feel comfortable,” she said.

Perez is also involved with the Advancement Via Individual Determination program at San Clemente High School. That program provides support and guidance for students on their college admissions projects, as well as academic help. She also participates in a number of clubs at the school.

Perez has applied to a number of California State University schools, with the hope of going into the medical field but said she would ideally like to stay close to home.

Brosche said Perez’s leadership with younger children was one of the aspects of her character that led the staff to choose her for the honor. Perez was among several older club members trained by staff as mentors for younger students. Each mentor was given charge over seven youths, which included private sit downs to review their progress.

“It was a challenge and a very good thing that she did for our club,” he said. “She’s a fantastic young lady. We’ve been able to see her grow up. Anytime we would do something extra, she’d be there. Anytime the community would reach out to us for volunteers, like the Exchange Club St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, she’d be there.”

As part of the Youth of the Year program, Perez competes with the other winners from the 15 clubs throughout the county for a $1,000 scholarship. The winner of that competition is eligible for higher Youth of the Year honors in the region and the state.

Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Kent Campbell thanks the attendees at Saturday’s annual fundraising dinner and auction. Photo by Jim Shilander
Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Kent Campbell thanks the attendees at Saturday’s annual fundraising dinner and auction. Photo by Jim Shilander

“Her character is just amazing,” Brosche said. “There’s nothing we can say negative about Laura. We knew she would be a good ambassador for our club, and that’s ultimately what we want. There’s a lot she does as Youth of the Year and what we were looking for a good ambassador.”

Kent Campbell, executive director of the club, said the total amount raised at Saturday’s event has yet to be calculated, but he expected the club would either reach or exceed its goal of $170,000 for the event. $63,000 was donated at the auction in the form of sponsorships alone. The club also received a pair of $10,000 donations from the Coral Thrift Shop and the Hansen family. The event was the largest ever for the organization as well, with 470 people in attendance.

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