Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale has named Pinnacle High School senior Carly Mertz as its 2020 Youth of the Year.
Carly, 17, was recognized at BGCS's annual Celebrate Youth Gala on Feb. 28.
"Our gala guests are always in awe of our teen leaders, and this year our eight finalists did not disappoint," said Robyn Julien, BGCS President and CEO. "On full display at the Celebrate Youth Gala was the true impact of the Clubs – confident, compassionate, and resilient young leaders on their individual paths to great futures."
Carly has been a member of the BGCS Thunderbirds Branch in northern Scottsdale for 12 years.
"The club has given me amazing opportunities to form my own identity," Carly said in a video that played before she gave her speech to the more than 600 guests at the gala, presented by Tiffany & Bosco and Meritage Homes. "I believe I have become a leader because of the encouragement and support of Club staff."
Carly told her story of finding confidence, positive body image and acceptance at the club.
"I experienced anxiety on a daily basis, and as a third grader, I constantly felt like I wasn't good enough," Carly said. "Giving something as seemingly small as that 'maroon and gold medal' to the awkward girl with mismatched outfits and a strong personality may seem insignificant but, in that moment, I had never felt more accepted."
"It was in that moment that I realized that the Boys & Girls Club wasn’t looking for me to be faultless. They wanted me to be myself. They had given me this medal because they recognized me for who I actually was, including my faults, and they celebrated that."
Carly will receive a $5,000 scholarship for college, which will help her achieve her goal of becoming an event planner for a nonprofit.
Also interested in community service and corporate responsibility, Carly was accepted to Arizona State University's Barrett, the Honors College and will major in marketing and hospitality.
Carly will compete at the state level on March 30, with the potential to move onto regional and national competitions.
"I will use my platform to remind every kid that they should be themselves. Remind them that mental health is important. Remind them that it's okay to ask for help. Remind them that they are good enough," Carly said.
Carly has held leadership roles in Torch Club, Keystone, and as a Leader in Training. This year, she was Keystone president.
Carly is also currently a valued part-time Club staff member.
Youth of the Year is a national Boys & Girls Clubs of America program promoting leadership, exceptional academic performance, and community service.
The competition began in September with 19 BGCS teens vying for the Clubs’ highest honor and a total of $12,000 in scholarship awards provided by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale Foundation.
Broadband Dynamics and Gabbie and Bob Rife provided an additional $2,000 for each finalist.
In addition to Carly, this year's finalists included Joseph (JP) Cahill, 15, of the Mary Ellen & Robert McKee Branch and freshman at Fountain Hills High School; Zaria Gonzales, 15, of the Lehi Branch and sophomore at Westwood High School; Annay Lopez, 18, of the Scottsdale Charros Branch and senior at Arcadia High School;
Also, Kennise McGertt, 16, of the Red Mountain Branch and sophomore at Mountain View High School; Kayla McNutt, 17, of the Virginia G. Piper Branch and senior at Desert Mountain High School; Jason Nuñez, 17, of the Hartley & Ruth Barker Branch and senior at Coronado High School; and Isabella Treasure, 16, of the Vestar Branch and junior at Pinnacle High School.
In the months leading up to the final competition, candidates prepared by writing essays and participating in panel interviews with community leaders.
The teens also practiced their presentations of their respective Club experiences, personal growth, and transformation, which they each shared on stage at the gala.
Proceeds generated from sponsorships, ticket and table sales, auction items and paddle-raiser purchases went directly to fund Club programming.