GREENWICH — Of all the superlatives used to describe 16-year-old Domenica Echeverria, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich had one that best summed up the young woman who had just been named the Youth of the Year.
“Domenica, you are absolutely awesome,” CEO Bobby Walker Jr. said.
Echeverria was honored at Thursday night dinner with six other youths who had been nominated for the award. The club packed in a crowd of 275 people and kept the seven nominees in suspense until Echeverria was announced as the winner.
A junior at Trinity Catholic High School, Echeverria said the club’s impact has been transformative in her life.
“My family and I moved from Ecuador to the United States when I was 2 years old,” Echeverria said. “We moved here with a single suitcase, and for many months I slept in that same suitcase. Being a first-generation American has come with many hardships that my family has had to overcome.”
Attending private school on a scholarship offered many opportunities, Echeverria said, but something was missing until she got to the Boys & Girls Club. Attending and then working at the club’s Camp Simmons helped her to come out of her shell. And she has gained a love of volunteering through its Keystone Club.
“The club offered me what all other places could not,” she said. “I found a place to immerse myself in many different activities. Even today, I find new things the club has to offer. The club gave me the opportunity to grow immensely as a person. I became outgoing, compassionate and, most importantly, a leader.”
The other six nominees were also praised for exemplifying “everything the club stands for,” Walker said
All of the honorees spoke briefly about what the club meant to them. For Delores Johnson, it was finding her voice. Vanessa Maldonado said the club helped her build her confidence. Justin Nadeau said the club has taught him to “aim higher” after high school. Michael Rincon feels more connected to his community. For Kevin Wing, the club has always been like a second home. And for Jean Zamora, being at the club helped her realize she was a “real leader.”
First Selectman Peter Tesei and state Rep. Fred Camillo, R-151st, were among the attendees. Camillo presented Echeverria with a citation from the town’s entire delegation in her honor.
The ceremony, now in its second year, was an idea from Gretchen Bylow, who said it was really all about the kids.
“Their stories are inspirational and moving, and everyone should be given a chance to hear what they have to say,” Bylow said. “The kids work so hard and are so dedicated to the club. It means so much to them.”
Jean Witmer, the first female chairman of the club’s board of directors, was also honored with the champion of youth award for her service.
“The Boys & Girls Club is a remarkable place,” Witmer said. “Opportunity is created here along with new skills, new friendships and new responsibilities. … It is all about encouraging and nurturing potential. That is the essence of the club.”
Several others also talked about the importance of the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich. For Dean Bell, a former youth of the year winner and co-chair of the event, the club simply was home.
“If you drive by this building and ask what it is, I tell you, ‘That’s where I grew up,’” Bell said. “I mean that. … Many of us have two parents, sometimes one, sometimes none. Sometimes you have grandparents or a grandfather dropping you off here. But we found a family here in this club.”
Mary Aceituno, a former member, said her daughters Damarys, 14, and Maryssa, 11, are now members.
“The club is like family to us,” Aceituno said. “It has helped us get through rough times when life was not great and put smiles on my girls’ faces in more ways than I can imagine, especially when things were at their lowest for us. The club still inspires me today.”