Hard work and many thanks

By Bill Althaus bill.althaus@examiner.net

During this pandemic, few things have been as challenged as a young man’s faith.

High school students have been robbed of meaningful time with their friends, participating in a number of activities – ranging from speech and debate to football and volleyball – along with social activities that often provide the most vivid high school memories.

William Chrisman High School sophomore Say’V’on Lankford, the 2021 Independence Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, tries on his first suit at the J.C. Penney store in Lee’s Summit. [Bill Althaus/The Examiner]

Yet, when William Chrisman High School sophomore Say’V’on Lankford is asked what he is thankful for, a wide smile appears on his face as he looks toward the heavens.

“Oh my goodness,” the 6-foot-3 football and basketball player said, without hesitation, “I am thankful for everything in my life right now. But I am especially thankful to the Boys & Girls Club. I would not be the man I am today without them.”

Lankford is the 2021 Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City, Independence Unit, Youth of the Year.

A written essay and speech were two important components of his road to success, and when the final results were announced, Lankford was the winner.

And if the winner is a male, he receives a new suit from the J.C. Penney department store in Lee’s Summit.

When Lankford arrived at the store, he was met by Jamel Malone, the Boys & Girls Club member engagement and special programs coordinator.

They soon joined Sharon Cleaver, the club’s senior director of marketing, and headed to the men’s department to pick out the perfect suit.

“Man, this is so exciting,” Lankford said. “I’ve never had a suit before. I have some nice shirts, but never a suit.”

Penney’s merchandising supervisor Peggy Quarles met the trio and the search for the perfect suit began.

“This is the best thing about my job,” Malone said. “Just look at Say’V’on, you can tell how excited he is, and that gets me excited, too. I’ve seen him grow up and become a man right before my eyes.

“You could never find a better representative for the Boys & Girls Club than Say’V’on.”

Quarles seemed to enjoy the search for the perfect suit as much as Lankford.

“It’s nice to see how a new suit can bring out the confidence in a young man,” Quarles said.

Lankford’s next competition will be in February of 2021, which will feature all metro competitors.

“I don’t know what will happen at the next competition, but I know that thanks to the Boys & Girls Club and J.C. Penney, I’ll look good.”

He paused for a moment, and added, “I never really thought about owning a suit. But now that I own one, it just makes me feel confident. Confident, and thankful.”

Say’V’on Lankford's essay

The Say’V'on you see standing here in front of you now, is nothing like the boy who walked through those club doors 10 years ago. In those 10 years I’ve started taking my education and learning more seriously, I’ve excelled in sports and other activities that help me figure out who I want to be, and most importantly I’ve improved my behavior and have begun taking advantage of the opportunities given to me. My experiences in the club and working with people who wanted me to succeed in the club helped me start this journey and I want to be an example for my family and other members who are growing in the club and Youth of the Year will help me achieve that.

Some of my first experiences at the club were not the best. I had a lot of friends but I had trouble keeping my temper in check and that would lead to a lot of altercations with some of my fellow members. Overall I was having a hard time finding my place there when I first met Mr. Steve. He introduced me to football which became an outlet for my aggression and began helping me develop my character. I went from playing on the club teams, to my middle school team at Bingham to my high school team at William Chrisman. I began to realize I had a passion for more than just football and successfully tried out for my school's track and basketball teams. I truly enjoy the bonds I form with my teammates and I like being a part of something bigger than just me. I know my family always believes in me but coming to the club helped give me that extra push to pursue my talent in sports.

As a child when you think of learning and education, it’s the last thing you want to worry about but when you have someone who is willing to take their time to teach you on a level you can comprehend and make it fun, you realize it’s not so bad. For me that person was my group leader Mr. Craig. During Power Hour, he motivated me to get my homework done and with Money Matters he helped realize I was really good at math. I’ve created this goal for myself to never fail a class and my club mentors help me build that work ethic for myself.

In the future I picture myself going to college and pursuing all my interests, whether it be in sports, real estate, or the medical field, and eventually going into business for myself. When I reflect on the impact the club has had on me, it makes me think about my growth and how I can inspire those younger than me to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them and cherish the support from those around you, who want to see you be successful. If I am chosen for Youth of the Year, I will use my influence and journey to help uplift other members, just like those who did for me in the past. Thank you for your consideration.