A packed house waited in prolonged silence Thursday night, finally bursting into applause as Markiah McEachin, a 15 year old freshman at Lee County High School won the Youth of the Year title.
A high school freshman who already has college plans, more than 100 hours of volunteer work and a leadership position with the Boys and Girls Club of Sanford/Lee County, Markiah McEachin has been named the club's Youth of the Year.
McEachin was given the award at the club's annual awards banquet held earlier this week, in which she beat six other local high school students competing for the award, which comes with a chance to compete for the state national Youth of the Year awards. Other nominees were Ce'Vaun Kiney, Gabreille Holmes, Jose Andino, Ravon Davis, Isaiah Monroe and Shantel Bennett.
McEachin, a ninth grader at Lee County High School is the first member of the club's Church Street branch to win the award. The Church Street director, Dana Ellis, said she was overjoyed when she found out McEachin was the winner.
"She has kind of been like my understudy for the last three years, since I've been with the club," Ellis said. "She started off volunteering, and I noticed out of all the volunteers we had, she would always take initiative with different duties. I wouldn't ask her, she'd just do it."
McEachin is now on the club's junior staff and works as membership manager for the Church Street club. She also belongs to outside groups like Phenomenal Girls, Torch Club and Keystone.
"Markiah also has a really bright personality," Ellis said. "Even when she's having a bad day, you really can't tell. ... She's just an outstanding club member. I always tell her she's not the typical teenager. Most teenagers are selfish and want things their way, but she's always looking out for others."
As part of the ceremony Thursday night at the club's main location at O.T. Sloan Park, each of the seven finalists had to give a speech to the crowd with the theme of "I have a great future" and why that is.
"I have a great future because I am determined to accomplish my goals and overcome every obstacle that comes my way," McEachin said in part of her speech.
In a biography the club wrote about her, it said McEachin "has overcome many obstacles and continues to break barriers," and that she wants to attend either N.C. State University or Wake Forest University and study nursing or political science.
In addition to winning the Youth of the Year award, which is the club's highest honor and is based on character, achievement and interviews with a panel of judges, McEachin was also one of three club members to be awarded the Presidential Volunteer Award.
The club gave out dozens of other local awards throughout the night for everything from academics (both best and most improved) to art and athletics, as well as the Dr. Gus Oelrich Award for outstanding character and leadership. That award went to Gabrielle Judd.
In between the awards and speeches by Youth of the Year candidates, the club also gave the floor to others for speeches, including outgoing president David Ellerby, incoming president Sherry Shudra and N.C. Sen. Ronald Rabin, who has supported the club financially and through a page program at the capitol.
"I advertise this place whenever I can because I had a similar place growing up, teaching us kids how to be well-behaved, good kids," Rabin, a Republican in his first term representing Lee and Harnett counties, said. "... While I am doing what I'm doing, and after that, the Boys and Girls Club will always have my support."
Rabin spoke to the crowd — and especially the children gathered in the audience — and presented a gift of flags that have flew over the capitol building. The retired Army colonel told them to always honor the values of hardiness and valor (red), purity and innocence (white) and vigilance, perseverance and justice (blue) that the flag colors represent. He also reminded them of the state motto, which translated from Latin means, "To be, rather than to seem."
Ellerby, in his goodbye speech, said his time on the board had its own ups and downs but that overall he and his fellow board members had fun and came away proud. And addressing the Youth of the Year candidates, he said he stood in awe of their courage and public speaking abilities.
"It's not easy," he said. "When I was small, you'd have to pro me up to get me in front of a crowd."
Shudra, who took over as president of the club's board of directors Oct. 1, said she was itching to get to work and honored the new and returning board members.
But the focus of the night, despite everything else happening, was the Youth of the Year. In her acceptance speech, McEachin told the crowd she couldn't have done it alone and was especially grateful to her mom and the club for believing in and supporting her.
Ellis and McEachin were both called away from the club for other commitments Friday, the day after the awards, so they missed the cake and balloons that were waiting for them. But the excitement will definitely still be there when they return, Ellis said, adding that for McEachin, it'll probably be just another day.
"Markiah is just so humble," Ellis said. "She won't let this get to her head, either."
Article Courtesy of Will Doran, Sanford Herald