Local youth club holds annual awards banquet

Local youth sing “Don’t Give Up on Me” toward the end of a successful evening at the Evanston Youth Club. The annual awards dinner not only served to recognize local youth, mentors and donors, it also served as a fundraiser for the club, bringing in nearly $11,000 to help support local kids. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — The mission of the Evanston Youth Club is: “To enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”  Those attending the club’s annual recognition dinner and groundbreaking ceremony on May 7, witnessed evidence of the success of that mission statement in the lives of many of the 300 youth who participate in the daily services provided at the youth club.

Kevin Kallas, president of the club’s board of directors, welcomed everyone to the event and recognized community members serving on the board: Loretta Howieson-Kallas, Jesse Lind, Amelia Rutner, David Welling, Dave Huggins, Wendy Schuler, Cody Bateman and Mark Anderson.

Kallas also recognized the club’s staff: Director Holly Slade-West; Marketing and Resource Development Jennifer Barker; teachers Emileigh Hillstead, Jose Echavarria and Omar Burgos; and support staffer Manuela Bustillos.

The evening focused on recognizing sponsors, honoring youth with awards for achievement, an outstanding donor recognition, a variety of performances presented by youth members and a groundbreaking ceremony for the planned addition to the facility.

During the buffet dinner, youth club members brought drinks and cleared away plates while the program continued. 

Kelson Hillstead, who teaches Kendo — the ancient art of pole fighting — at the youth club asked two of his students, Connor Culp and Elo Bacca, to demonstrate the technique. Guests were also entertained with youth club dancers doing a Tik-Tok mashup and a Robotics Club presentation.

The professionals in training (PIT) members provided information on the club’s new food truck.  The PIT had designed the logo for the food truck, created a marketing plan and developed and designed the menu.

“The trailer will have a soft opening with a limited menu on Friday, May 21, at Castle Rock AutoFarm from 4 to 7 p.m. We plan to officially be open in June,” Slade-West told the Herald. “The food trailer will be available for hire for catering [and] community events, and will be open at the Evanston Youth Club. For specific dates and times, you can follow the youth club’s social media or [visit] our website.”

Throughout the evening, presentations were given by board members recognizing the importance of the club to the youth of the community. Rutner thanked the club for her son Hunter’s positive experience working with the youth.

Anderson recognized and thanked the sponsors that make the youth club a reality and reminded the audience that the youth club is supported entirely by donations, grants, and events such as the current one.

“We sold 140 tickets for the award dinner and gained a profit of $10,850,” Slade-West told the Herald later.

As Huggins told the audience inside about the planned addition to the facility, Evanston Mayor Kent Williams, BOHICA Construction employees, and some of the board members and youth were outside breaking ground for the new addition. The audience was supposed to be able to watch on the screen; however, live feed technology didn’t cooperate, so a floor plan was shown to the crowd.

“This new addition is critical to allow the club to provide services for additional youth. The addition will have a kitchen, an auto body shop, and class rooms,” Huggins said. “We are still $65,000 short but are moving forward.”

Chris and Deborah Reno, Tim and Katy Beppler, and the City of Evanston were recognized by Schuler as outstanding donors.

One of the highlights of the evening was when Union Telephone awarded free cellphones to three youth who had completed certain requirements. Union Telephone has gifted 200 free cell phones to students who meet the requirements which include maintaining A’s and B’s in school, attending the club at least 30 times and participating in activities, maintaining fewer than 10 absences and/or tardies; attending and participating in a variety of the classes offered at the club; reading a club-assigned book and providing a summary of it to the teacher and maintaining overall good behavior at school and at the club. They must also complete a one-on-one interview with Slade-West, whom many of the youth call “Mom.”

Howieson-Kallas announced the names of the three youth who had completed all of the requirements for the free cell phones: Alexiyah Loyola, Solon Westenskow and Marley Renelle.  Members of the Woody family — Brian Woody, Eric Woody and Stacey Aughe — who own Union Telephone, presented the youth with their phones.

The 2021 Youth of the Year Award was the main event of the evening. This year, nine youth were nominated for the award: Victor Lozano, Alisia Segura, Izayha Leckie, Kylah Hintze, Pedro Salas, Payton Adams, Rosa Zazueta, Angely Aldana and Emily Zazueta. Each nominee received a hoodie at the event.

In speeches given by the five finalists, Victor Lozano, Alisia Segura, Izayha Leckie, Kylah Hintze, and Pedro Salas, each revealed personal stories of overcoming many financial and emotional hardships , from the loss from the loss of family members — either through abandonment, divorce, death or addiction, to experiencing poverty with a single parent struggling to provide for the family. In spite of serious challenges, each youth gave credit to their families, especially their mothers, for constant love and support. Each testified that the youth club had changed their lives in a very positive way and provided them with a safe and positive environment in which to learn and grow.

Board members Bateman and Lind gave a $100 gift card, a hoodie and a cellphone to third- fourth- and fifth-place finalists Victor Lozano, Alisia Segura and Izayha Leckie, respectively. 

Honored donor and contestant judge Chris Reno presented runner-up Pedro Salas with a $200 gift card, a cellphone and a hoodie.

Contestant judge ShanDee Welling presented the 2021 Youth of the Year Award to Kylah Hintze.  Hintze received a $500 gift card, a cellphone and a hoodie.

Closing out the evening’s festivities was Jose Echavarria, 2016 Youth of the Year and currently a teacher at the Club. Echavarria told a similar personal story as those of the young nominees of 2021 and gave the youth club the credit for “heading me in the right direction.”

At the end of the program, all of the youth and teachers stood at the front of the audience and sang “Don’t Give Up on Me.”

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