And the winner (cue drum roll please) of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen Youth of the Year Competition for 2009 with a $1,000 college scholarship, is … Castulo Tijerina III.

Castulo or Casey as he is affectionately known, is homegrown, having been a club member for more than 10 years and playing in our football program. He was influenced by several of our volunteer coaches, but Casey’s hero and lifelong mentor is his mother. Their stories are intertwined.

His mother, Sally Tijerina is one of our youth development professionals. She serves as Site Manager for our club services at McAllen High School and she is the Teen Coordinator at our Glen E. and Rita K. Roney Center. (I am obliged to tell you that none of our panel of judges knew that until after the competition.)

Unfortunately Sally and Casey have had a rough go of it, especially economically.

Sally works three jobs to support her family, which consists of Casey and two sisters. After years of struggle to make ends meet, they moved into a house last year — they are all proud.

Children growing up in a single parent homes are statistically more likely than their counterparts to have poor school performance, become involved in substance abuse or the juvenile justice system.

Casey has grown beyond his circumstances. He is a tall, handsome, athletic young man who appears shy at first. He bravely shared the details of his family life with our panel of judges. They were impressed with his speech and manner as well as the maturity of his dreams. Casey refuses to play the role of victim which characterizes some youth with his background.

College is a must for Casey. He plans to be a radiologist and will major in medical sciences. Casey is a senior at Memorial High School in McAllen. He studies and plays sports, knowing that he must prioritize school in order to fulfill his dreams. Casey feels the responsibility of being the man of the house now, he loves his mother dearly and wants to make her life better and improve the family’s economic standing.

The year before last however, Casey suffered a personal tragedy, a serious car accident. Casey was the driver. One of his best friends was a passenger in the car. He was thrown from the car and killed. Casey was cleared of any wrongdoing.

It was believed that the other car involved had a drunk driver. Even though Casey went through a depression and wondered why he was spared, he chose yet again to not play the role of victim. Casey states, “I take responsibility for my life and want to help other teens do the same. I want my youth of the year candidacy platform to be about safe teen driving. Life is a gift. We should wear our seatbelts; don’t drink and drive; say no to drugs and do well in school. We make decisions every day. Those decisions affect other people.”

Casey’s sober message of hope reflects his character. His character has been shaped by the mentors in his life that were present for him in crisis and helped him come through tough times with a positive message.

Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a sociologist and serves as the Chief Professional Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. She can be reached for comment or questions at lreagan_porras@bgcmcallen.org or (956) 682-5791.