Good news was announced by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana on Thursday.
Boys & Girls Clubs named Merrillville resident Azariah Avery of the Merrillville Boys & Girls Club as the Indiana State Youth of the Year.
"It was overwhelming. And it's definitely something I won't forget," Azariah Avery said, about the honor.
Avery, 18, is a student at Merrillville High School, who has been involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana for the past 12 years.
The Youth of the Year award is a special recognition program celebrating great achievements of Boys & Girls Club members around the U.S. The award has been given out since 1947.
As the winner of the award, Avery earned a $2,500 scholarship from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America; a four-year full-ride scholarship to St. Mary of the Woods College; and a one-year scholarship to Ivy Tech Community College.
"I have some decision-making to do," she said, about pinpointing her school plans.
As in past years, the State Youth of the Year award was scheduled to be presented in Indianapolis. With the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the award was given out in a unique way this week ... via a virtual conference.
"It was totally new for everyone," Avery said, adding that prior to doing her speech and interviews remotely via telephone, she was nervous how it would translate remotely.
"A big part of my speech was that I wanted to make a connection with the judges. Going into it, I thought it would be challenging. My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding during the whole process."
But, she said, afterward, the judges told her she was able to hold their attention and she "made a connection."
Alison Martin, vice president of philanthropy for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana, said there's an extensive application process for the state award, which starts at the local level.
Avery was selected from a group of 17 candidates representing Boys & Girls Clubs across Indiana.
Martin said award candidates are judged on special essays they've written, community service, academics, extracurricular activities and more.
"We're very excited. We've had two state winners two years in a row," Martin said. Last year's winner was Sanja Kirova.
Prior to winning the Indiana State Youth of the Year Award, Avery was named Boy & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana's Youth of the Year during a ceremony held Feb. 27 at Duneland Falls Banquet Center in Chesterton. She won a $5,000 scholarship at that ceremony.
"Now, she'll move on to the 13-state Midwest Regional Youth of the Year competition," Martin said. "There are five different regions in the U.S. of Boys and Girls Clubs. If she wins the regional competition, she'll be one of five national finalists."
Martin said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana have had three national finalists overall throughout the years of the competition. Winners have been David Lillard of Gary; Amy Gley of Cedar Lake; and Tamika Mallett of East Chicago.
Avery said her involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana started as "just a place to go after school."
"Because both of my parents worked in Illinois, it just became my home." Now, Avery is on the junior staff at the Merrillville Boys & Girls Club. She assists the staff with projects from helping with homework to aiding them with various activities.
"I'm a helping hand," Avery said. She's been a member of the junior staff for the past four years.
Avery is the daughter of Nashun and Anthony Avery of Merrillville.
Avery said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana means a great deal to her.
"The club has been there for me. It's helped me overcome so many obstacles," she said, adding it was a tremendous help to her when she went through a dark time at one point. "The club has saved my life."