The 21 finalists in the statewide "Youth of the Year" program were treated to a $100 shopping spree from the shopping chain last Wednesday, to buy business apparel for the final stages of the contest.
The program recognizes kids ages 13 through 18 for leadership and community service. Each finalist received a $1,500 scholarship from their home Boys & Girls club, and the state "Youth of the Year" winner will receive a $20,000 scholarship from Wal-mart. Fulfilling a goal
"I want something to catch peoples' attention and make me look good," said Secaucus resident Sonam Lama, 18, as he browsed through some of the suits in the men's department. A senior at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, Lama said he plans on studying business and finance at Rutgers University next fall, where he has already been accepted. "My parents owned a store their whole life," he said. "It's always been my dream to fulfill their goal and work in the business world." Originally from Hoboken, Lama and his family moved to Secaucus three years ago, after Lama's parents had to sell their store to make way for development. His father, Pasang, was there with him, helping him choose a tie to match the khaki-colored suit he had picked out. Pasang Lama came to the United States with his wife from Nepal over 13 years ago. Last Wednesday he could not disguise the pride he felt for his eldest son, whom, he said, will be the first in the family to go to college. "He's a very hard-working kid," he said, smiling. 'Appearance counts'
While Sonam Lama selected suits, Danyee Griffin, a girl from Newark, was browsing for blouses. "Your appearance counts a lot," said the 17-year-old, who is a senior at Bloomfield Tech High School. "It's the first thing people judge you on." Griffin said that she wants to major in biology and chemistry in order to become a cardiovascular surgeon. She has already been accepted to four schools, including St. Peter's College in Jersey City and Delaware State University, which she says are her two favorites. "A lot of my success came from the Boys & Girls Club," she said. "A lot of mentors helped me get to where I am now." Every day Griffin gets out of school early and goes to her local Newark Boys & Girls Club. She works at the main office from 1 to 4 p.m. and then spends the rest of her evening participating in different programs, including "turning the tables on violence" - a program that incorporates music and DJ skills into teaching life lessons. In another program, "career launch," she learned the importance of appearance for a job interview. "You have to come prepared and look professional. People always judge a book by its cover," she said. Helps kids go to college
The Boys & Girls Club "Youth of the Year" program provides opportunities for kids to go to college that might not otherwise have the chance, explained Connie Ludwin, State Director Boys and Girls Club New Jersey. Ludwin said that through a year-round process, local clubs help identify the state leadership. National winners will be announced at Congressional breakfast in Washington, D.C. in September. The selection process for the New Jersey finalists includes a written application, an oral presentation, and an interview with a panel of judges, which will be held at the end of May. It was that interview that the students were shopping for last week, and it is the final factor in determining which New Jersey finalist will win the $20,000 college scholarship. Ludwin said that Sonam Lama is just one of the great examples of the kids across the state competing for the scholarship. "He's what we're looking for," she said. "Somebody that best embodies the impact the club has made on them... If you talk to other kids it's similar. The club is their second home." She added that in many cases, it puts kids "on the right track." Setting a positive example
"Our goal is to support programs that make a positive impact in the communities where we do business," said Steven Restivo, Media and Community Relations Manager for Wal-mart. He said that the 54 stores in New Jersey have partnered with the Boys & Girls Club for the program, and added that a number of Northern Jersey stores donated supplies to the Lodi Club, which was greatly affected by flooding. Restivo, who grew up in Wayne, knows firsthand the important role that Boys & Girls Clubs play in young peoples lives. "You feel like you belong to a larger group, which is important for young people," said the executive, who was himself a Boys & Girls Club member when he was younger.