Jayla Williams thought she was a loser.
She introduced herself as one to the crowd of people gathered at the 2017 Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County Youth of the Year award luncheon Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m a loser, at least that’s what I thought,” said the Gainesville High student, who has been a member of the club for the past 11 years.
The award honors an outstanding or exceptional youth like Williams for playing a role in leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication.
The 16-year-old accepted the award this year for the third consecutive time.
“I want to stick my chest out … I’m very, very proud,” said Steve Mickens, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
This will be her third time in a row going to the state Youth of the Year competition. The past two years, Williams went to the state competition feeling confident in herself, but fell flat.
“I didn’t think I could lose,” she said.
She came back to Gainesville feeling down, but Antoine Nealey, the teen center director for the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Gainesville branch, encouraged her to try again. She was told to look at failures differently.
Failures are feedback, she learned.
This became her mantra, which she repeated to herself over and over until it stuck. She wanted to make herself better for the next go-round.
“My mentality changed,” Williams said.
She pushed herself to grow from her failures instead of giving up. Instead of pulling back from her extracurriculars, she joined another varsity level team. She is now on the softball team and cheerleading squad.
Williams also participates in the National Honor Society, Beta Club and National Spanish Honors Society. She is the project director for the Key Club.
Her 4.0 GPA rose to a 4.1. She also increased her hours of community service to more than 200, and she’s ranked fifth in her class
As she said, she became “Jayla 2.0”.
“I want to inspire all youth not to feel bad after they fail,” Williams said. “Everyone is capable of more.”
She also inspires the people around her. Her mom, Melissa Pollard, cheered for Williams when she walked off the stage.
Pollard said the characteristic that most qualifies Williams to be the Youth of the Year is her determination in everything she does to succeed.
Winning the award qualifies Williams for the state competition. She’s been the past two years, but didn’t take home the award either year. Now she will be going to the state competition later this month. She will compete against 39 other winners in the state through a judged speech and interview.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Williams said.
During the two-day competition, she will also get feedback on her speech and take a field trip to somewhere in Atlanta. The next day, if she makes it through, they will visit the state Capitol building.
If she wins, she will receive a $5,000 scholarship. If she goes on to the regional level, she could win a $10,000 scholarship renewable for four years, and winning the national level would allow her to collect a $25,000 scholarship.
Williams plans to use the money to attend the University of Baylor, where she would like to learn the skills to become a software developer.
Two other nominees spoke at the luncheon. Christen Copeland is a 17-year-old Lakeview Academy student and team captain for the varsity basketball team and National Honor Society member. Myron Dabney is a 16-year-old on the Gainesville High varsity track team with more than 100 hours of community service in the club’s Sports Leadership Club and last year’s runner-up.