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'Making a positive impact' – Van Horn student earns high honor

By Bill Althaus bill.althaus@examiner.net

When Aleisa Washington walks into an office or classroom at Van Horn High School, she is greeted by smiles and socially distanced “hugs.”

Although just a sophomore, she has already made an impact on her school, and her community.

Dred Scott, the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City calls her a role model.

Van Horn High School sophomore Aleisa Washington is the 2021 Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. The honor comes along with $6,000 in scholarship funding from the Boys & Girls Club and McCarthy Auto Group.

Washington is a vibrant leader at her school, and after spending an afternoon visiting with her, it is easy to see why she recently was named the 2021 Youth of the Year for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City.

“The honor is well deserved,” Scott said. “She is a natural leader in school, the club and her community. She is a great role model to the others, particularly our young girls. She has an infectious personality that exudes positive energy that makes a lasting impression on those around her.”

“We are so proud of this young lady.”

Washington, who has a 3.8 grade point average, has been a member of the Hanthorne Unit since she was 5 years old. She has won a $1,000 scholarship from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City and a $5,000 scholarship from McCarthy Auto Group.”

“It is said that a dream without a plan is just a wish,” she wrote in an essay that was part of the competition. “The club has always been a place for me to dream, but it has also been a place for me to turn those dreams into plans for my future.”

“Growing up I watched my mother raise four kids. Being a part of the club saved us. My mom worked at KFC and was also attending college trying to earn her associate’s degree. The club gave me a chance to change my path.”

And in doing so, she changed the path of many of the club members, especially the young girls, who she encountered along the way.

“My favorite program at the club was Smart Girls,” she said. “I loved Smart Girls because it was an open environment for girls around my age to express themselves in a safe place. Smart girls helped to rebuild my self confidence, help me to make the right decisions in life and turn me into the young lady that I am today.”

And that young lady shines like a beacon during a COVID-tinged moment in time that needs a bit of light among the darkness so many youngsters have to deal with.

“You meet Aleisa once, and you never forget her,” said Jamel Malone, the club’s member engagement and special programs coordinator. “She is a one-of-a-kind young lady.”

And this young lady is ready to make an impact at her club and in her community.

“I believe it is important to give back to the club,” she said, “and my community. Three days out of the week I help tutor the younger members, and I always try to make myself available to staff who may need a little help. 

“I come here to better myself and there has not been a single time that I haven’t had a chance to improve my character, my attitude, my grades or my future.”

While she can be all business, she also enjoys being a kid.

“The Boys & Girls Club is so much more than a place I go to after school,” she explained. “I go there because I know I can be my goofy, outgoing, fun self around people. Not only do I get along well with the other members, but I know for a fact that every single staff member there believes in me and my future.”

And that future just might include getting a law degree. While she has two and a half more years at Van Horn, she is zeroing in on a career that will help others.

“When I leave the club, I want to be known for making a positive impact,” she said. “I know I have the potential to make a real difference within the clubs. Everyone has a voice and I’m ready to put mine to great use as a civil rights attorney.”

“A dream is nothing without a plan and the boys and girls club is a part of my plan.”