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2024 Youth of the Year Celebration

Last night, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley transformed our Maxwell Clubhouse into a vibrant reception for our annual Youth of the Year Celebration. Among an audience of proud families, community members, and Boys & Girls Clubs staff, we announced Esmeralda Tellez-Ferreyra as our 2024 Youth of the Year and heard from the stories of four exceptional teens who have powered, and been empowered by, Teen Services.

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VP of Teen Services, Eric Gonzalez, speaking onstage at the Youth of the Year Celebration

Youth of the Year is our premier youth recognition program for Club members. In addition to announcing the 2024 Youth of the Year, we also recognize Members of the Year from each of our locations, along with the Carole Downing Volunteer Award, and the Athlete of the Year Award.

The event began in tribute to Helen Fernandez, one of the founders of Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, formerly known as the Valley of the Moon Boys Club. She played a pivotal role in establishing an inclusive environment which opened doors for countless girls within the Boys & Girls Club, reshaping its history forever. To honor her memory before the event was a valuable reminder that with the right mindset and collective effort, we can make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of those who need us most.

Vice President of Teen Services, Eric Gonzalez, then took to the stage to speak to the incredible spirit of the four teen finalists of this year’s celebration. He made clear the powerful bonds formed between Teen Services staff and members, impressing the care, respect, and friendship shared between himself and the teens he serves.

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Teen Services staff and the 2023 Teen Members of the Month

Esmeralda Tellez-Ferreyra – 2024 Youth of the Year

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“My parents immigrated to the United States at a very young age, with nothing in their pockets but a dream. They had limited resources and opportunities but that never slowed them down in their pursuit of happiness. As 1 of 4 first-generation daughters, I work hard to honor the sacrifices that my parents made.”

Esmeralda Tellez-Ferreyra is the deserving recipient of our 2024 Youth of the Year award. She is an 11th grader at Sonoma Valley High School, a Ready to Work and Lovin’ Oven Culinary Academy alumni, and a dedicated student.

She shared with the audience what it means to work in honor of her parents, to be a queer woman of color, and to be transformed by therapy and self-care.

Chosen for her resilience and zeal, Esmeralda is a force against injustice: “Experiencing the challenges that Mexican American families face, I’m inspired to be an immigration lawyer and fight against the injustices. I will achieve all the goals I’ve been desperately running towards until I cross the finish line. I will continue the generational hard work, to show my parents that all the pain, struggle, and sacrifices were worth making in the end. I will proudly look back at the long race I finished and be happy that I never stopped running.”

Esmeralda will represent Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley in 2024 and is sure to make Sonoma proud!

Iñaki Bran – Finalist

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“I am 15 years old, and my story begins in Guatemala, in a very beautiful and friendly town. Like all stories, mine also includes moments of loss and sadness.”

Iñaki Bran is a 9th grader at Sonoma Valley High School, an outstanding youth leader, and a passionate Club member.

Iñaki is an exceptional example of perseverance and hope. Onstage, he shared his journey immigrating to the United States this year, reuniting with his mother, and joining the Teen Service’s family: “The teachings from my history in Guatemala, the strength of my mother, and the support of Teen Services have prepared me to face the future. As I continue my journey, I carry with me the lessons from my past, the determination of my present, and the hopes of my future.”

Mariana Hernandez Padilla – Finalist

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“I have never been very social; always the shy dandelion amongst a field of vibrant flowers. Never able to fit in, I was constantly alienated by my peers for not following social norms.”

Mariana Hernandez Padilla is a 12th grader at Sonoma Valley High School, a Youth Development Intern, a Ready to Work Graduate, and an inspiring leader. 

Mariana’s quiet confidence charmed the audience as she secured her place as a leader amongst her peers. Her power is in her individuality, a sentiment she fought hard to believe in: “Now that I am a senior, I can confidently say I am a respected leader, a leader who can help other members find their voice. A leader who reminds members that no matter how loud you speak, you deserve to be heard.”

Christopher Fonseca – Finalist

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“Growing up in poverty has taught me valuable lessons about gratitude and the true meaning of abundance. It has been a challenging journey, but I have persevered and discovered my own path towards a better life.”

Christopher Fonseca is an 11th grader at Sonoma Valley High School, a Lovin’ Oven Academy Intern, a Ready to Work Graduate, and an outstanding student.

Christopher brought a spirited and sunny energy to the stage, inviting us to celebrate his triumphs in spite of his setbacks. He is a poignant illustration of the power of community: “I thought all the struggles early on in my life would carry on forever; with the help of Teen Services, they no longer do, and I am getting the education I want and the future I want to build.”

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