PHOENIX, AZ – Selected from a field of six candidates from Boys & Girls Clubs organizations around the state, Vakentae Cooks, from Phoenix’s I.G. Homes Branch, was named the 2021 Arizona State Youth of the Year. Serenity Gordon Odai, from Davis Monthan AFB Youth Programs, received the 2021 Arizona State Military Youth of the Year top honors.
The Youth of the Year title is a prestigious honor bestowed upon an exemplary young person in recognition of leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to live a healthy lifestyle. Now in its 74th year, the Youth of the Year program honors our nation’s most awe-inspiring young people on their path to great futures. As the ArizonaYouth of the Year, Vakentae will serve as an ambassador for all teens in the State, will receive a $2,500 college scholarship from Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and will go on to contend for the regional Youth of the Year and ultimately the national title.
Although Vakentae has only been a Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley Club member for two years, he has quickly become a positive leader and influencer among the other Club teens. He is the president of the Keystone Club and was a member of the Black Student Union at the Metropolitan Arts Institute. He’s currently a senior at Central High School. He has also participated in Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley’s workforce development program, AZYouthforce, where he interned at Talking Stick Resort/Arena. He was the first intern to be hired on as a Guest Relations Ambassador from the internship program. He plans to attend Prescott College and will work towards a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education and psychology to become an English teacher and author. He hopes to use this career to assist young adults deal with often overlooked mental health issues by teaching them better comprehension skills and how to express themselves in written form.
Serenity has been a Club member for 11 years and has had a positive impact on her community. She’s a member of Torch Club, Keystone, Smart Girls and Teen Council. She’s been a teen ambassador, tutor and served in many volunteer roles in her Clubs. She plans to graduate and attend Grand Canyon University to study Zoology.
“We are incredibly proud of Vakentae and all the Youth of the Year nominees,” said Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “Being named Youth of the Year is a lifelong honor. As the Arizona’s Youth of the Year, Vakentae will serve as a spokesperson for Boys & Girls Club kids and teens across the state who need more role models that they can admire and emulate.”
This summer, Vakentae and Serenity will join other state winners to vie for the Southwest Region regional title. If named the regional winner, he will be awarded an additional $20,000 college scholarship. Six youth, including five regional winners and a military youth winner, will advance to the virtual National Youth of the Year event in October 2021 to compete for the title of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Youth of the Year. The National Youth of the Year will receive an additional scholarship of $50,000 and a brand-new Toyota Corolla.
Arizona State Youth of the Year judges:
- Matt Gress
- Director at the Arizona Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting
- The Honorable Lea Márquez Peterson, MBA
- Chairwoman, Arizona Corporation Commission and President, Márquez Peterson Group, LLC
- Brenda Puga
- Community Relations Coordinator, Fiesta Bowl Charities
- Jacob Lounsbury
- Director of Global Partnerships, SciTech Institute
- Dr. Jeremy Babendure
- Executive Director, SciTech Institute
- Associate Research Professor, ASU School for Future of Innovation in Society
- Senior Fellow, Institute for Learning Innovation
For more information about the Youth of the Year program, visit www.youthoftheyear.org.
About Arizona Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs:
There are 60+ Boys & Girls Clubs Sites in Arizona. Boys & Girls Clubs can be found in urban, suburban, and rural communities across Arizona, and military bases throughout the State.
Clubs employ more than 890 dedicated staff serving 112,883 youth. 67% of our members are ages 12 and younger, 62% represent minority races or ethnicities, and one-third live in single-parent households. Clubs work to create equity and opportunity for youth through programs that create pathways to academic, career and workforce opportunities and achievement. Clubs help young people make healthy decisions and focus on social and emotional development to build resilient young adults. Most importantly, Clubs work to develop strong character and leadership skills by creating positive connections to caring adults. azabgc.org/azyoy
About Youth of the Year.
Founded in 1947 as Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s premier youth recognition program, Youth of the Year recognizes outstanding contributions to a member’s family, school, community and Boys & Girls Club. The Youth of the Year program is supported by Toyota and Mondelēz. As the Signature Sponsor of Youth of the Year, Toyota is committed to partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to ensure local Clubs provide life-enhancing opportunities for kids and teens to explore, develop and apply the essential skills they need to be successful in life and work. As the Lead Sponsor of Youth of the Year, Mondelēz International, will engage with local Clubs year-round to help foster a new generation of leaders prepared to live in and lead a diverse global economy. Youth of the Year representatives are the workforce leaders, innovators and problem-solvers of tomorrow.
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