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VALPARAISO — Cameron Tharp was named the 2017 Porter County Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year during a recognition program at Valparaiso University's Christopher Center.

"I couldn't believe it when they announced my name," said Tharp, 15, a sophomore at Valparaiso High School.

Tharp represented the Valparaiso club as Youth of the Year. Representing the other Porter County clubs were Karina Martinez, Duneland club; Sanja Kirova, Portage club; Kale Nelson, South Haven club. Tharp will compete at the state level later this year. This program promotes service to the club, community, family, academic success, strong moral character and life goals. The four candidates represented their individual clubs and then gave speeches to judges who then chose the Youth of the Year.

In front of family and friends and community members the four gave their speeches Thursday before Tharp was announced the winner.

Nelson told the crowd he believes in being selfless and helping others.

"Never give up, and never let anything block you from your destiny," Nelson said.

Kirova, in her speech, stressed being a voice for good change. "I am now full of hope and expectation because of the club. There is always someone there to look up to."

Martinez talked about how she felt after her parents split. "Everyone needs help and the club boosted me," she said. "I feel best when helping others, and I feel I'm a role model to my four siblings, said the Chesterton Middle School eighth-grader.

Tharp spoke to the crowd about how the club helped him after his parents divorced and he began searching for his mother. He also talked about he was was bullied for having Asperger's Syndrome.

"At the club I realized I could be a kid again and there is no need for bullying. I believe in moral character, honesty and compassion," said Tharp.

Ryan Smiley, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Porter County, described the event as a premier friendraising event.

"The guests get to hear the Boys & Girls Club story from our premiere club members," Smiley said. " This is a short impactful great event which embodies the spirit of what we do. I'm extremely proud of their time and efforts."

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Community Coordinator

Annette is Community Coordinator for The Times. She has been with the paper for two decades. A resident of Hobart, she graduated from Purdue University with degrees in English and German.