The Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) is currently celebrating an impressive 100-plus years providing professional adult mentors to 4 million in-need youth annually. Through membership and outreach programs, the Club strives to help young people become productive, compassionate, and responsible adults. This year’s Great Futures Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel honored Evander Holyfield, five-time world heavyweight boxing champion. Touching stories filled the night, all crediting the Boys and Girls Club for helping discouraged youths with unsure futures while providing the encouragement, hope, and confidence any child deserves.
Hosting the evening was actor, comedian, writer, and Boys & Girls Club alum JB Smoove, whose on-the-spot anecdotes and wittiness elicited countless audience laughter and eased nervous young speakers. When one teenaged-speaker mentioned a personal “obsession” with pigs, Smoove quipped he shared the same obsession… for bacon.
Three youth award winners shared their remarkable stories throughout the course of the evening. Daniela, Military Youth of the Year, was the first to recount her childhood memories. Originally from Peru, Daniela eloquently described her family’s journey, mastering the English language, and relayed her countless struggles morphing into determinations. Next, Emily, the 2015-2016 Youth of the Year, discussed earning an impressive 3.9 GPA and commended the Boys and Girls Club for instilling work ethic, administering guidance towards a “road map,” and gradually molding her into the woman she “always wanted to be.” The first high school graduate in her immediate family, she proudly declared, “college is no longer a dream, but a reality.”
The last of the teenaged speakers was Whitney, awarded National Youth of the Year, the Club’s highest-ranked youth award. Whitney, a freshman at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, is currently studying law and politics with aspirations to become the President of the United States. Whitney’s speech was interlaced with sage wisdom beyond her years. Before exiting the stage, she moved the spectators with one last piece of advice: “Even if you don’t feel like it right now, you do have greatness in you.”
The donated live-auction portion of the evening featured prizes such as a seven-night stay at privately owned Turtle Island off the coast of Fiji, a visit for two to the FOX NFL Sunday pre-game show donated by Fox Sports Network, and none other than Evander Holyfield generously auctioning off a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an hour-long private boxing session in the ring against the world-renowned champion himself.
Notable celebrity Boys & Girls Club alumni speakers included Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, former NBA player and current FOX Sports anchor, Jim Jackson, and actor Martin Sensmeier. Each depicted their personal Club stories, in which, dreams were encouraged into realities. Furthermore, celebrity BGCA alum, Denzel Washington, the national spokesperson for the Club, spoke briefly seguing to introduce Evander Holyfield and present him with this year’s 2015 Champion of Youth Award.
The room fell silent as Evander Holyfield commenced speaking, his stage presence surpassing his six-foot two-and-a-half-inch stature. His stoic storytelling was awe-inspiring as he depicted growing-up the youngest of nine children and sheepishly joining the Boys & Girls Club at age six with a gifted twenty-five cents membership fee. Holyfield’s tale unfolded beginning with his first encounter in the ring at the tender age of eight, winning a bronze medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics, and thus becoming the only five-time world heavyweight-boxing champion. Holyfield credited the club’s life-changing mentorship, commenting, “It took one quarter to give me the opportunity to be the person I am today.” Presently, Holyfield has personally donated $1 million to the Boys & Girls Club, along with his valuable time and various resources.
All in all, the gala left an indelible mark on patrons and attendees through newfound inspiration and the power of paying it forward.