Wakeman Boys & Girls Club names 2018 Youth of Year

Chanel Francis, Quinton Sneed, Kara Smith & Stephen Gniadek honored

Chanel Francis

Chanel Francis

Selected among eleven outstanding finalists, Chanel Francis has been named the 2018 Youth of the Year by Wakeman Boys & Girls Club.

A Central Magnet School senior, Chanel also earned Girl of the Year honors for the organization’s Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse, while the Clubhouse celebrated Kolbe Cathedral senior Quinton Sneed as Boy of the Year.  

Kara Smith

Kara Smith

At the Southport Clubhouse, Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior Kara Smith was awarded Girl of the Year honors, while Fairfield Prep senior Stephen Gniadek was named Boy of the Year.

Stephen Gniadek

Stephen Gniadek

The Youth, Girl, and Boy of the Year titles are prestigious Boys & Girls Club honors bestowed upon exemplary teens in recognition of leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to live a healthy lifestyle. Now in its 71st year, the Youth of the Year program honors the nation’s most awe-inspiring young people on their path to great futures and encourages all kids to lead, succeed and inspire.

“The Club means a place of diversity and a safe haven.  Since I’ve been coming here, I leaned away from most of the negativity of my neighborhood,” said Chanel.  “I used to hang out with a really difficult crowd of girls. They used to ask why I was coming here and dealing with all the rules.  At first I agreed with them, but people are really friendly here and I made lasting friendships.”

A Club member since seventh grade when the Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse opened in 2011, Chanel is now considering her college options toward a career in accounting.  Chanel credits the Club’s teen activities and diplomas2Degrees program for helping in her college decision-making process.

Southport Girl of the Year Kara Smith’s membership activities span eleven years, including Wakeman’s Junior Staff job training program and current co-president of its teen service group Keystone Club.

“Everything we’ve done in Keystone Club is meant to have an impact on someone in the Club or community. Working on Wakeman’s Girls Summit last year, our goal was to talk about positive body identity and diversity… I had an opportunity to help plan it and have an impact on girls,” said Kara.

Southport Boy of the Year and twelve year member Stephen Gniadek is also Keystone Club co-president and Junior Staff participant, as well as a volunteer tutor.

Thinking of advice for new members, Stephen said, “Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. Whether you are a brand new member in elementary school and need the courage to ask someone to play or you’re in Keystone for service and thinking about signing up for projects you’re not comfortable. You have to do it to get the full Wakeman experience.”  

Quinton Sneed

Quinton Sneed

Smilow-Burroughs’ Boy of the Year Quinton Sneed is active in the Club’s community service activities and diplomas2Degrees program.  Reflecting on his introduction to Wakeman, Quinton said, “I’ve been coming here since I was 10, when the building opened in 2011. My mom wanted me to come here because I was a kid who would go home, do homework and sit in front of Nicolodeon. I whined the whole drive over here, but we knew a staff working here at the time, and I’ve been here ever since, feeling at home. This Club is a part of me now – I know every inch of the place.”

Chanel represented Wakeman Boys & Girls Club at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Connecticut Youth of the Year program in the state Capitol on April 4th, where she met with winners representing fifteen other Clubs, state legislators and Governor Dannel Malloy.  Chanel, Quinton, Kara and Stephen will also be celebrated later this spring by Wakeman Boys & Girls Club’s staff and board at its annual Youth of the Year evening.

“Chanel has been a vibrant member of the clubhouse since she was in middle school. She has participated in a wide variety of activities and served as a volunteer and junior staff member throughout her high school career,” said Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse Director Laura Magnotta.  “I most recently witnessed some of our youngest members endearingly call her “auntie.” She is a loud, proud and visible member of our community and we are thrilled that she is representing Wakeman as our 2018 Youth of the Year.”

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