‘Youth of the Year’ Headed in the Right Direction

There was a time when Jacob Park, this year’s Boys & Girls Club of Malibu Youth of the Year, wouldn’t have fathomed the honor.

The Malibu High senior never envisioned himself advancing to one of six finalists for the Los Angeles County Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Club. His life seemed headed in a different direction.

“I had to be talked into even coming [to the Boys & Girls Club],” the 17-year-old said. “I wasn’t in school, there was some gang stuff. I needed someplace to do my community service hours and The Club seemed like one place where I could do it. I didn’t know it would turn out to be this important.”

Park has lived around the southland, from Malibu to Camarillo, for the past several years. He dropped out of high school in Camarillo at one point and nearly went to prison. Park says his brother, Josh, was instrumental in convincing him to even step foot in The Club.

To Kasey Earnest, chief professional officer for BGCM, Park is just one of the many stories representing the impact of The Club on Malibu’s youth population.

“Jacob’s an incredible young man,” Earnest said. “He just went down that wrong path with drugs and all that goes with it. He was on the run from the law and chose to turn himself in. Then, his twin brother asked if Jacob could fulfill his probation at The Club. It just shows what happens when you take a kid out of a bad environment and put him into a good environment. Things change.”

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BGCM’s Youth of the Year Award recognizes one youngster from The Club annually with exceptional contributions to “a member’s family, school, community and Boys & Girls Club, as well as personal challenge and obstacles overcome,” Earnest said.

BGCM’s members come from all corners of Malibu, with diverse backgrounds and experience. The Club serves some 1,200 youngsters each year, and Park was one of the seemingly rootless young men who frequently land on their doorstep.

“But as soon as I came once, I wanted to keep coming,” Park said. “There was just so much friendliness and positivity. I think a lot of kids can’t relate to my experiences, but here, it doesn’t matter. You just look forward.”

In fact, Park is actively looking forward. From drop out to graduating senior this May, Park has enrolled at Santa Monica College for the fall semester. He is currently undecided as to what he wants to study, but is still marveling over the concept of attending college.

“I want to see everything college has to offer,” Park said. “I like music (he doesn’t play any instrument), so I’m thinking something in music production.

But I really like my economics class also. Maybe there’s a way to combine the two?”

It was this kind of intellectual curiosity that sent Park to the L.A. County Youth of the Year event, held in March at the Nokia Center at L.A. Live. He and five other finalists vied for two spots in the State of California Youth of the Year competition (BGC is a national organization).

Although Park didn’t advance to the state level, he was awarded an additional $2,000 in college scholarship funds, which to Park was like receiving “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Earnest said Park perfectly exemplified the kind of young person The Club wants to help and guide.

“Jacob still struggles at times,” Earnest said. “But he’s made the commitment for college. He told me he had always wanted to be a part of something. He really does have a new path.”

One of the panel judges in the search for a BGCM finalist was Malibu City Councilman Lou La Monte. He pointed out how many youngsters over the years had seen a big difference in their lives thanks to The Club, but that Jacob was the most striking.

“He came from a very difficult background,” La Monte said. “Part of being Youth of the Year is the who and what of the kid, but part is the ability to articulate how your life has been changed. Jacob gets the message out. If there was a stock market in kids, I would invest in him.”

Though Park is considering studying music and economics at SMC in the fall, he’s not too concerned that he doesn’t yet have a master plan.

“Through The Club, I learned that no matter where you are, you can decide things need to change in your life and you can do that yourself,” he said.

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