McKeesport teen named Boys & Girls Clubs' Pa. Youth of the Year
McKeesport Area senior William Gadson is the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Pennsylvania Youth of the Year.
William, a youth coach and member of the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club in McKeesport, was honored in Philadelphia last month along with 11 other teens, who qualified after winning regional nominations across the state. William represented Western Pennsylvania.
“At the local level, I prepared a packet of information about myself. It included letters of support from my principal, parents and pastor,” he said. “For the state, I prepared a three-minute speech that was delivered to a panel of judges. I was asked to talk about the challenges I face in life.”
William talked about his experience in an urban club within a socio-economically distressed community. He shared his perspective that with positive role models and a range of activities, young people can overcome the negative aspects of their environment.
“I talked about the challenges we face in McKeesport and the perception of our city,” William said. “People talk about what they see on the news — the crime, the poverty. Despite all that, we have many ways that we can succeed.”
William views the LaRosa club as one open door to that success. He talked about walking to the club — a trek that takes kids past dilapidated homes, graffiti and other distractions — to a safe haven that's clean and secure.
LaRosa Boys & Girls Club welcomes an average of 100 kids per day for after-school activities and recreational sports. William has been a member for 13 years and now volunteers as a basketball coach and flag football referee.
“It's always been the place to be,” he said. “Whether kids are playing basketball in the gym or learning upstairs, it's a place that they can have fun and get away from home.
“There are so many things out there to do to get in trouble, but the club is positive. It's a better place to be.”
LaRosa executive director Jim Barry said William has been a model student and athlete at the club for as long as he can remember. He said he's proud to claim William as a member of the local club.
Barry said the state competition is tough, and the Northeastern United States regional competition in New York in August will be the same.
“They're all winners, and their stories are so compelling,” he said. “I feel blessed to know (William). He carries himself with such poise and presence that is unheard of for someone who is just 18 years old.”
Barry described William as a true role model.
“He is the kind of kid that others can look up to,” Barry said. “He makes smart cool. That's the way I've always felt about him.”
William's parents, Trisha and Corey Gadson, said they couldn't be more proud of their son.
“William is a good kid and a good leader,” Corey Gadson said. “We're proud to have him representing our family, our school and our community.”
Trisha Gadson said her son has worked hard, not only as he progressed through the competition, but in all the years of his youth.
“The Boys & Girls Club has kept him busy,” she said. “That's one of the things I like about it. The staff and volunteers keep kids busy and involved in order to keep that other stuff out of their heads.”
Trisha Gadson credited Barry, assistant director Tim Brown and former director Tom Maglicco with giving a generation of at-risk youth a new direction by carrying on the club's traditions.
With Youth of the Year awards established in 1947 by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, they recognize club members' commitment to community service, academic success and strong moral character.
For his Pennsylvania win, William will receive a $1,000 scholarship. He will compete for $10,000 at the regional level in August, with a chance to progress to nationals in Washington and strive for an additional $50,000.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or email@example.com.