Reigning winner Arabella Gipp was announced as the 2023 Lawrence Youth of the Year winner Thursday evening during an annual community ceremony.
Gipp (Standing Rock Sioux), a Lawrence High School sophomore and Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence member, thanked her family, mentors and fellow candidates. Most of all, she recognized her mom and Boys & Girls Club — especially her mentor, Mr. Jordan — as the “two things that stayed constant throughout [her] life.”
During her candidate speech, Gipp vulnerably shared how she began living unapologetically in her identity. She spoke about finding her sense of belonging.
“I thought I was too white to call myself Indigenous,” Gipp said during her speech. “I thought I liked men too much to call myself queer. But they (Boys & Girls Club) accepted me for me. I didn’t have to change the way I spoke or the way I acted around them. I could be me — the passionate, Indigenous, loud, queer, opinionated woman I am. BGC LK gave me amazing role models to show me that I am enough to call myself all the things I was once too scared to say.”
Along with her Boys & Girls Club involvement, Gipp participates in volleyball, Keystone Club, debate, NAACP Youth Council and the Student Mental Health Advocacy Group for Lawrence Public Schools. She also works part-time at the Center for Great Futures. After high school, she plans to attend Stanford University and major in political science as well as become an activist or politician.
A mental wellness advocate, Gipp organized a mental health resource fair for the community back in September, bringing awareness to the organizations and agencies available in Lawrence and how to seek support. She planned guest speakers, games, music, food and a fun run.
The Youth of the Year judges panel, which included Julie Dean, Tom Harper, Dr. Dee Ann DeRoin, Larry Englebrick, Keon Stowers, Sgt. Bronson Star and Dr. Krista Whitney, selected Gipp as the winner after dedicating time ahead of the ceremony to interviewing each candidate and scoring their written essays and short answer questions followed by hearing their individual speeches Thursday evening.
The four remaining candidates, Chloe Clossen, Ohene Danso, Audrey Rice and La’Ron Williams, were also honored Thursday evening for their contributions to Boys & Girls Club, their schools and the community at large. Each gave speeches about navigating life as a kid and finding a home with Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.
In addition to the Youth of the Year program, third through eighth grade Boys & Girls Club members participate in a Junior Youth of the Year program. This year’s winner, Albaraa Almohammadi, was announced on Jan. 23 and gave his winning speech Thursday evening.
Almohammadi, who’s a Southwest Middle School student and Center for Great Futures member, gave a comedic speech during the ceremony, reminiscing on his favorite Boys & Girls Club moments.
To add to the excitement of the evening, elementary school students gave special dance performances. The Sunset Hill, Deerfield, Broken Arrow and Sunflower Boys & Girls Clubs each took the stage in between candidate speeches, wowing the crowd with their moves.
“Tonight is my favorite night of the year,” Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence CEO Monica Dittmer said at the beginning of the ceremony — hands down better than any other thing that they do. “If you wanna feel hopeful about the future for all of us, you will tonight.”
Gipp will now go on to represent Lawrence in the Kansas state competition and hope to then advance to the regional competition. Last year, she was named the 2022 Lawrence Youth of the Year and the 2022 Kansas Youth of the Year.
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Williams, a Free State High School junior, shared during his candidate speech a message about open-mindedness and respect.
“Those who are typically viewed as a part of the norm are labeled introverts or socially awkward, when in reality they’re the same as anyone else,” he said during his speech. Williams, who has big dreams, said he hopes he continues to be someone people can rely on. In thanks to Boys & Girls Club, Williams concluded his speech by saying he has evolved into “a caring, productive and responsible citizen.”
Rice, a Free State High School senior, used her candidate speech to give her flowers to those who have positively impacted her life.
From playing basketball at the Club to learning to believe in herself, she said “If it wasn’t for the Boys & Girls Club, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Now that she has graduated a semester early from high school, Rice is gearing up for college. She plans to attend the University of Kansas in the fall and major in nursing.
Danso, a Free State High School sophomore, talked during his candidate speech about his journey to accepting himself as a “unique individual who can make as much of a difference as anyone else.”
Boys & Girls Club welcomed him in and gave him the ability to continue his favorite sport — volleyball — and he hopes to become a professional volleyball player someday. Danso said he didn’t always know where he fit but learned to trek outside of his comfort zone and “get out of the mountain I was at the bottom of.”
Clossen, a Free State High School sophomore, spoke candidly during her candidate speech about body image, specifically the realness of young people struggling with eating disorders.
She shared the growth she experienced with her self-confidence and the comfort she found at Boys & Girls Club. An advocate for athletes’ mental health, Clossen finished her speech with, “I promise you, it will get better.”