FORT KNOX, Ky. — Fredre’Oni Terrado knows where she’s come from and where she’s going, and she has a plan to get there.
A junior in high school, the 16-year-old spends most of each week at Morehead State University in Northern Kentucky, attending the Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics.
When she’s not studying for her advanced classes, Oni — as she is known by most people — volunteers for worthy causes, helps others, spends time with each of her parents who live several states apart, and still finds time to prepare for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year competition: a competition she recently won at the Kentucky state level.
Oni’s mentor, Tessarose Brown, calls her a natural. Brown should know. When it comes to preparing youth for competition, the self-described taskmaster has mentored six of the last six state winners.
“Of all the Youths of the Year I have had, she might be the most polished and prepared without having had training from me,” said Brown. “She has been involved in so many organizations outside of school and in the community, so she has already learned about time management, prioritizing, maintaining and managing her stress levels, and figuring out how all that happens on top of being in honors classes at a college campus right now.”
Oni met Brown in the summer between her freshman and sophomore years. Oni said it was soccer and her mom’s job that led her to the doorstep of Devers Middle School and Teen Center.
“I had soccer practice every single weekday. My mom wasn’t able to stay with me at home so she was like, ‘Oh, you should hang out at Devers,’ so I did,” said Oni. “Ms. Tessa told me I should sign up for the Boys & Girls Club.”
When Brown explained that volunteer work would be an important part of club participation, Oni said she was ready to join. Brown also told her about the annual Youth of the Year competition.
“I read a little bit about it and thought, this is the perfect program that would help me be able to advocate for young people and strengthen our generation,” said Oni. “It is an opportunity for me to use my platform to touch many hearts and minds of people, and show them the strength they have within themselves, as well as what they can do with the trauma in their life — what they can do to make themselves stronger instead of it holding them back.”
Oni admitted she just recently finished a class in resiliency, but she’s not just speaking from just an academic perspective about trauma. She has lived it.
“From my personal experiences I understand,” said Oni. “I don’t understand everybody’s trauma, but I understand a great amount of mine; the [several] deaths in my family, my parents’ divorce, constantly moving and being in a new location all the time.
“I understand feeling alone and having to deal with that, especially since we are given an opportunity by God to help others.”
Oni said win or lose, Youth of the Year is giving her the opportunity to spread her message of hope to others. That’s a message that has resonated to Devers youth, with whom Oni works when she is able to return from Morehead at the end of some weeks.
“Oni is a natural leader with drive and a heart of gold,” said Nakita Gavre, director of Devers. “She has embraced the role of a military youth and used her experiences to push her through life.”
Gavre said Oni takes advantage of opportunities to help others as they arise. When not juggling her studies at Morehead, Oni has been involved in several events and clubs at Devers, including Keystone projects, Feeding America drives for senior citizens, a weekend backpack food program for underprivileged youth, as well as working on Vacation Bible School events and the Hardin County Teen Court. Last year, she moderated the 2020 Youth Leadership Forum.
She also mentors other students.
“Oni gets the youth excited to be involved, and the energy and drive that she produces is addicting to the other youth and staff,” said Gavre. “She has a few youth who really look up to her and you can see the excitement in their faces when Oni walks through the doors.”
Unlike in the past, this year’s Youth of the Year competition has been virtual from the very beginning. That poses a whole set of unique challenges for contestants because they can no longer rely on body language and audience energy when delivering their speeches.
Oni said she has delivered her presentations while sitting in front of a computer in her dorm room or a common area in Morehead, Kentucky, twice now. The next competition, the Midwest Military Youth of the Year on June 17, will be the same as will the national military competition Aug. 4.
Added to the difficulty, Brown has had to mentor Oni virtually from her home in California, and soon will be continuing to mentor her from her new home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Oni said she is learning new ways to make it all work for her with each challenge.
Gavre said that is not surprising.
“I joke that I want to be like her when I grow up. She not only inspires the youth around her but also the staff,” said Gavre. “She is an inspiration to us all.”