Gabriel Copeland, an 18-year-old student at Gainesville High School, grew up without a father.
“A kid without a father has a hole in their soul ... and it can leave a gaping wound,” he told a group Thursday night at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center in Gainesville. “Every kid is one caring adult away from being successful.”
Copeland said he felt fortunate to have found caring adults with the Boys & Girls Club of Hall County.
Copeland was one of three teenagers who spoke to a panel of judges as part of the annual Boys & Girls Club of Hall County Youth of the Year Competition.
Three teens shared their stories: Copeland, Myron Dabney and Jayla Williams. Judges asked the young people questions to determine the most compelling success story and send that candidate to the statewide Youth of the Year Competition — the winner of which gets a $5,000 scholarship toward the college of his or her choice.
Dabney, a 15-year-old who attends Gainesville High School, said his life was a wreck before he joined the Boys & Girls Club. The young man told the judges the heartbreaking story.
“And then, I started making good grades,” Dabney said. “I joined the track team. I was suddenly having the time of my life.”
Williams, a fellow 15-year-old at Gainesville High School, said she had struggled with the loss of her father, who passed away in 2015.
“My dad was my number-one fan,” she said, adding that being a part of the Girls Club of Hall County had helped her get through the loss. “It is impossible to lose when have a team like this.”
The winner will be announced at the third annual Youth of the Year luncheon at 11:45 a.m. Monday at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center.
Greg Katulka, a board member with the Boys and Girls Club of Hall County, said he enjoys being a judge for the competition because “it allows you to interact with the kids and hear their story, what they’ve had to overcome, what they’ve accomplished and what the club means to them.”
Dana Miller, president of the organization, said choosing just one of the young people as the winner of the competition “is the hardest decision to make. I get real emotional when it comes to these kids and what they go through and how they pull themselves up … and the process to choose just one is very difficult and emotional. They’re all great kids.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County serve more than 5,500 young people every year and have 610 members, ages 6 to 18, every day. Eighty-six percent of the organization’s youth comes from economically disadvantaged circumstances.