It is an experience that can be life changing to a youth, and for 14-year-old Abigail Sorenson, being selected as West Point’s Boys and Girls Club of America’s Youth of the Year may open up a world of possibilities that could shape her into a person who can help change the world.Each year, one extraordinary young individual, between the ages of 14-18, from a Boys and Girls Club rises to the role of National Youth of the Year. This individual becomes an exemplary ambassador who not only speaks as the voice of Club youth everywhere, but also stands up to represent all of America’s young people.On Feb. 27, Sorenson competed against two other youth candidates from the West Point Youth Center to earn the title of West Point’s representative for BGCA’s Youth of the Year.According to Angela Riley, the West Point Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s Child and Youth Services’ Middle School and Teen assistant director, each candidate had to write a resume, cover letter, four essays on given topics, submit two letters of recommendation, write and deliver a speech without using notecards to a panel of six CYS/MWR-associated judges and fill out a candidate nomination form. The process before the competition day took between one-to-three months for the competitors to complete.When the dust settled and the judging was all finished, Sorenson, an eighth grader at West Point Middle School, came away with the West Point BGCA Youth of the Year designation. Along the way, Sorenson impressed the judges with her ability to express her thoughts through both the written word and orally.“The candidates needed to select three personality traits that best suited them for their cover letters and Abigail chose advocate, initiator and motivator of others,” Riley said. “I believe all three of these traits are sometimes hard to find in youth today and working with Abby throughout the application process, it just proved to the judges and myself that she really did encompass these traits.“For being 14, she is very well spoken, intelligent, knows what she believes in and wants to stand for, and she has commendable goals,” she added. “The judges were in awe at how she delivered her speech and how she could highlight her achievements and strengths, which made her the best candidate for youth of the year. Abigail truly does lead by example and understands how to take the needs of the community and make it a reality.”The Process, the Presentation and the ImprovisationThe road to adulthood is not easy for anyone, but the process of learning about yourself during the journey through adolescence is what can make an exceptional adult.Sorenson said she learned much about herself during her trek to earn West Point Youth of the Year and as she now moves further in the BGCA competition at the state level.“I find the challenge most exciting. Being in middle school, I haven’t had many chances to truly grow in my experience as a speaker and a candidate for something, which is definitely something that I can use later on,” Sorenson said. “Through this whole elaborate process, I am learning many things about myself. A few of them being how fortunate I am to have people to assist me with work like this and how when I truly concentrate and focus on something, it comes out to be much better than anticipated.”This is the first competition of this type Sorenson has competed in and at the beginning of the application process, she said, she would spend hours a day working on her resume, cover letter and essays and then leading up to the competition she would memorize her speech.As Riley mentioned, the judges were impressed with her speech, but it was within the speech to the judges where Sorenson recognized her strong ability to think quickly on her feet.“The easiest thing to do, during such competitions, is to improvise,” Sorenson said. “During the deliverance of my speech, I had lost my place, but improvising saved it and I still managed to succeed.”Since the West Point event, Sorenson said she has been reexamining the judges’ comments about her essays and speech, and she has revamped and edited them all to turn them in for the state competition.“I have spent 10-to-15 minutes a day to just reinforce the speech and go over some possible interview questions I could be asked at the state competition,” she said.Embodying the values of BGCA and growing up in a big familyBoys and Girls Club of America’s YOY participants must embody the values of leadership, service, academic excellence and healthy lifestyles. Those values, in the BGCA’s program overview, exemplify the critical impact of Boys and Girls Clubs in the lives of young people.Sorenson said she places a high importance on those four core values, especially leadership and service, as she is the public relations officer with her school’s National Junior Honor Society.“Leadership is being able to take charge when necessary, but also knowing when to step back and allow other people to take care of things themselves,” Sorenson said. “With that, service is, simply, being selfless. Within the past year, I have been motivated by my NJHS to give more back to everyone and have completed about 170-180 service hours with NJHS, my youth group and on my own.”As for academic excellence, she said, from her perspective, it is not something that is easily defined in terms of excellence.“Every person has different capabilities, which means that there is no number to be put on academic excellence,” Sorenson said. “It is simply prioritizing school and education. Personally, this is represented by my high GPA and determination for a profound education.”And last, but not least, living a healthy lifestyle which Sorenson said she does by getting proper exercise, which includes playing volleyball, while eating and sleeping properly.However, some of the biggest challenges she faces may not be from outside influences, but merely the fact that she is one of eight children in her family.Her dad, Maj. Quinn Sorenson, teaches American foreign policy and American politics at the U.S. Military Academy, while her mom, Archimedes, is a stay-at-home mom.Nevertheless, the road to adulthood is much bumpier within a household with seven siblings and a military family used to PCS’ing every few years while at the same time adding the narrative of the challenges and issues adolescents face today.“Growing up in such a large family as one of the older children, I know what it’s like to try so hard and feel like it is never enough and what it’s like to be surrounded by people, but still feel completely alone,” Sorenson said. “Some of the most concerning problems teenagers face today is feeling hopeless, out of place or isolated. These are often the roots of depression. I hope to speak up for those teens who are not given a platform like Youth of the Year.“This competition (at West Point) is against other military youth who have grown up in a relocation, constantly moving lifestyle,” she added. “It is not always easy moving around and you start to feel like you don’t truly make connections with people, but each move has taught me something different about myself that has made me a stronger person capable of competing in a competition like this. Being a military youth has given me the skills of dealing with hardships and struggles that I know many of my peers struggle with allowing themselves to develop those skills.”Good things come to those who waitThe old adage of “Good things come to those who wait” certainly applies here during the BGCA Youth of the Year competition because the New York State competition’s live event was canceled for May 17-19 and now will take place virtually on Zoom July 28, Riley said.After the state competition, if Sorenson were to continue, there will be regional and national competitions where the winners receive scholarship money at each level.As Sorensen keeps plugging away with the preparation for the state competition, she said she appreciates Riley, her parents, a teacher from the West Point Middle School and her older sister with helping her most through the process.“To all of these people, I would like to thank you with the deepest sincerity for getting me this far,” Sorenson said. “I am so grateful to all of you for your help and I will not forget it.”In the grand scheme of things, she understands and is excited about doing this competition and what it means for her future.“This is my first competition that meant something to my future,” Sorenson said. “Having this knowledge on how things generally go will really help me in the future, and I am so glad that I did this even if it took a lot of time … I’m so excited to be continuing on.”A phrase used by BGCA is, “Great Futures Start Here,” and the West Point Youth Center and the BGCA have been at the forefront of helping West Point’s adolescents reach their goals for generations in becoming productive members of society through the programs they offer in a supportive and welcoming atmosphere.“Through the entirety of my membership with this club, I have looked forward to the times I would get to participate in dances, sports or everyday leisure activities with the Youth Center,” Sorenson said. “To have such a wonderful organization supporting me as I grow into a member of society and giving me endless opportunities to further develop certain skills, it means the world to me that I am fortunate enough to have this opportunity to be guided by them.”Last words on Sorenson and Youth of the Year competition future hopefulsRiley spoke about the need to support and encourage youth as mentors to help them gain confidence in their lives.To work with the next generation, Riley said, to make the world a better place is rewarding to her and she enjoys helping youth, like Sorenson, grow into the people they are meant to be—and Riley has high praise for Sorenson and where she is headed in the next few months and beyond.“Abigail is an astounding individual to take on the task to compete in a competition like Youth of the Year,” Riley said. “The process has taught her a lot about herself and given her a lot of confidence I see grow every time we talk. I look forward to seeing how well she does in the state competition in July.”Riley added that the Youth Center is looking for its next Youth of the Year starting in November 2020.“To all the families and youth who are 14 years and older who are looking for a leadership role and scholarship opportunity,” Riley said, “I strongly encourage getting involved at the Youth Center and let us help you accomplish your hopes and dreams.”