Teens shared powerful stories of perseverance Tuesday as they competed for the Youth of the Year title for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
The competition was held at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center in Gainesville.
Joe Ethier, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County said the award is the highest honor a club member can receive.
The award recognizes youths who have made exceptional contributions to their club, community and school and overcome obstacles.
The teens gave three-minute speeches, followed by questions from a panel of judges.
Tyeisha Williams, 17, said she joined the Boys & Girls Clubs at age 6.
She said the club played a part in shaping who she has become today.
"I have seen young females get pregnant and young men go to prison when they stopped going to the club. I feel like if I stopped going, I could be one of them. It's kept me out of trouble," she said.
Asked where she sees herself in 10 years, she replied "law school."
"I want to become an entertainment lawyer," she said.
Williams attends Gainesville High School, as well as the rest of the contestants.
Qymane Brawner said he also aims for a successful career one day in marketing.
"I hope to be directing a Super Bowl commercial for Coke in 10 years," he said.
The 17-year-old is earning a 3.6 grade point average at Gainesville High and hopes to attend Bryant University.
Growing up, Brawner said, his father was absent for much of his youth, but the Boys & Girls Clubs gave him people to look up to.
His mother also gave him encouragement.
"She told me that I should never, and that's a capital N-E-V-E-R use my father as an excuse not to be successful," he said.
The panel asked what word Brawner would use to describe the strength of his family.
"Faith," he said. "With faith all things are possible inside the family and outside."
When 17-year-old Shanice Ellison stepped up to the podium, she told the judges she is a confident and phenomenal woman. However, she didn't always feel that way, she said.
When she was young, she discovered the man she knew as her father was not her biological father. She said the news was shattering.
"I couldn't understand why my father didn't want me. I wondered what was wrong with me," she said.
She said a staff member at the Boys & Girls Clubs helped her see it is important to love herself.
The club also boosted her communication and job-seeking skills, she said.
Ellison hopes to attend Georgia Southern University.
Contestant Alexis Hawks, 16, began by thanking the Boys & Girls Clubs for helping her become a "strong lady."
Her father is a pastor, and she said her family was often travelling.
Responsibility was learned at a young age, she said.
"When my father was on the road I took care of my three younger siblings. I clothed them, I bathed them, I took care of them like they were my own," she said.
Like the other teens, the club also helped her through difficult times.
She said she had a cousin in Jamaica she was very close to and who was murdered two months ago.
"I felt like my life was over and I lost my other half," she said.
The club has given her support and strength, she said.
When the panel asked how she would define "community" she said it's like a family.
The Youth of the Year will be announced March 15 at a board retreat for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
"The winner will represent us for the next 12 months and be involved in speaking engagements and assist in special events," Ethier said.
The Youth of the Year will also be eligible for a scholarship and will compete at the state level Youth of the Year competition this March in Atlanta.