News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
Like countless youngsters before her, Kacy Espitia has been shaped by her experiences at the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester. It has provided a place of community, mentorship and friendship on a regular basis for her and so many area students for generations.
The daughter of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants, Espitia has been going to the club since first grade.
“I’m grateful that my time at the club has made me a caring and ethically responsible citizen,” Espitia said.
Last week, the Harrison High School senior was named its 2022 Youth of the Year Award winner, the signature event that has been handed out for the past 75 years by the Mount Kisco-based club. The award, decided by a panel of judges, honors a high school teen that embodies leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to a healthy lifestyle.
One of four finalists that had been narrowed from an original roster of 14 nominees, Espitia said she was “in utter shock,” after having her name announced at the annual award ceremony and dinner at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua.
“I’m incredibly honored and incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such a beautiful community and we’re building something special, we’ve built something special here, and I want to be part of the continuing steps to make it the best it could be,” said Espitia, who plans to study sociology and was set to make her decision by this week on where she will be attending college.
Hers was one of several uplifting stories highlighted at last week’s awards dinner. Fellow finalists Zayaan Hussain, Bryan Ji and Ellie Slive, all students at Horace Greeley High School, spoke of how the Boys and Girls Club helped them as students and people.
Slive, a junior, was named the runner-up for Youth of the Year and was bestowed the Chris Cutri Memorial Scholarship. She’s been a member of the club since the summer before she entered first grade. At 12, Slive volunteered as a coach’s assistant for the Mini Marlins swim team and three years later joined the youth corps at the Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance, which has spurred her interest in nursing.
“I find that the personal connection I make with the patients is just as rewarding, if not more important, than the medical care that they get,” Slive said. “I realized that along with my passion I the medical field and healthy bodies, I also help assure healthy minds. To me, a healthy mind means being happy, confident and comfortable in who you are.”
Hussain, a sophomore, suffered a stroke at birth which caused the left side of his body to be much weaker. That didn’t stop him from learning how to swim, becoming a six-year member of the club’s Marlins Swim Team and placing in two events in the National Paralympics.
Hussain hopes to become an oncologist, to honor his aunt who died prematurely from cancer.
The club has given Hussain the life skills and confidence to take on life’s challenges.
“When I first started to swim and I was taking lessons, I was told I was never going to be able to swim, and now I’ve been able to compete in the finals of the National Paralympics,” he said.
Ji, a junior, who has been coming to the club since preschool, said through the pandemic he felt he had slipped into depression because of the isolation. When he was able to return to school full-time and the club, Ji was assigned to help lead a group of fifth- and sixth-grade campers, who immediately greeted him with open arms.
“During this time, I was able to give back to the community that helped me so much in my upbringing,” Ji said. “That summer helped me so much mentally and physically and landed me right back on my feet.”
Executive Director Alyzza Ozer said for 83 years the Boys and Girls Club has been providing area children and teens with a safe environment where they can learn important skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.
“In order to be able to develop responsible adults, we need to provide you people with the opportunity to be in a positive environment and learn how to advocate on behalf of themselves,” Ozer said.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/