Tears welled in the eyes of Jermain McDougald's mother and Boys and Girls Club of Sanford-Lee County staff as the teen was honored this week as the club's 2014 Youth of the Year for his hard work and participation at the club — despite experiencing much hardship and loss.
More than 200 youth, club supporters and volunteers attended the Celebrate Youth event Thursday hosted by the Boys and Girls Club at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center to raise money for the club. The Youth of the Year formally was announced at the fundraiser, but the youth competing were informed Tuesday.
McDougald, a 17-year-old senior at Southern Lee High School, said it was an honor to receive the award, especially since his cousin, who died in a car accident two years ago, was a former Youth of the Year.
"I felt like I could follow in his footsteps,” he said. "He was known for being a great young man.”
Besides the loss of his cousin, McDougald's mother had a stroke his freshman year. He said she continued to take care of him until this year, when she was moved into a nursing home. He now is being cared for not only by his aunt and uncle, but by the Boys and Girls Club.
Bo Hedrick, the club's executive director, said McDougald was chosen as Youth of the Year because he always stayed in contact with the club, worked with staff members and participated at the club and with peers despite his hardships.
"Not only is he doing that, he is making good grades,” he said. "He is staying focused on what he needs to do.”
William Johnson, the club's teen director, said McDougald's mother was not able to make it to the announcement Tuesday night, but because of special arrangements with the nursing home, she was able to come to Thursday's event.
"When I began to talk to her ... it just got me good. It hit me so hard,” he said. "I could see tears of joy, tears of happiness. She told me, 'Thank you Mr. J for all you have done for my son.'”
Johnson said McDougald is a perfect example of the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child", because everyone, including his family and the club, helped to raise him and to make sure he someday reached his goal of joining the military.
"He's focused. He's got a goal of going into the military, and we're doing everything in our power to push him,” Johnson said. "We've all been a part of the village, all the staff up here.”
Johnson said during his 15 years working with the youth, McDougald stood out as one of the best.
"Based on the obstacles he's seen, it's almost against the odds that he's been able to make it,” he said.
Each Youth of the Month over the last year was eligible to win Youth of the Year. The process to select the winner involved community leaders reading an essay from each youth, sharing a meal with them to gauge their social aptitude and asking questions, Hedrick said.
"In the end, he was of course selected the winner, but there were two others that were only two points behind,” he said. "So it was very tight competition.”
Hedrick said McDougald would now get an opportunity to compete against the more than 30 different Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year winners across the state. If he wins at the state level, he would move on to compete at the regional and national levels.
Along with the formal announcement of the Youth of the Year, the Celebrate Youth fundraiser also consisted of auctions and games, including a free-throw shootout, putt-putt and cornhole. Hedrick said he anticipates the club raised close to $50,000 from sponsors, ticket sales, auctions and games.
"[Thursday] night is what Boys and Girls Club is all about,” he said. "We've been here for 19 years now, and [Thursday] was seeing community rallying around the children.”
-Courtesy Sanford Herald