The board of directors and staff of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen are proud to announce the 2010 Youth of the Year, Mariela Garza!

Mariela Garza is a confident McAllen High School senior but it wasn’t always so. Our organization first knew her as a young Boys & Girls Club member who participated in regular after school programming when she was 8 years old. Over time she grew into an active student involving herself in many extracurricular activities that took her away from club life. When she was 16 however, her parents separated and eventually divorced. It was then that she reached out to the club again.

Mariela admits being depressed for awhile after her parents’ separation. She believes many youth suffer depression and other problems that can isolate them from others. She could have easily been tempted to use alcohol and drugs to escape but as she says, “I made the right decision to reach out and I want others to do the same.” Mariela reached out to her friends, her church and her Club.

She remembered the fun and the warmth of her childhood experiences at the club; she instinctively returned to the Club. At first Mariela joined the music group and reconnected with Club teens and mentors by playing music. It was a great stress reliever for her. Later she became involved in community service projects. One day she was offered to work at the club. Money was tight at home since her dad moved out and Mariela was anxious to help her mom. She refused to ask her mom for clothes or spending money. Mariela worked hard at the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen as a sports assistant. Her bosses and mentors gave her the opportunity to grow professionally by teaching her to deal with the public during sports registration. Mariela even took the initiative in developing customer service standards. Mariela grew strong and independent.

This independence led her to join the Dual Enrollment Engineering Academy at South Texas College. It is a rigorous course of study that enables students to graduate high school with an associates degree in science and facilitates enrollment in a 4 year college as an engineering major. Mariela sacrifices some fun and socializing to advance her academic goal of being the first one in her family to graduate from college. She states with conviction, “every sacrifice has its reward.” She has plans to attend college and come back to the Valley as a civil engineer. She imagines working for the City of McAllen as a civil engineer for the City of McAllen.

She is not waiting to be of service however. She is sharing the life lessons she has learned about commitment and sacrifice to make your dreams come true with her young mentee. Mariela found time to go through our mentor training for community volunteers and passed it with flying colors as usual. She was paired with a younger club member. They hit it off and talk regularly. Mariela shares that her mentee is asking about how to handle tough life choices even in middle school. Mariela encourages her mentee to work hard to achieve your dreams and ask for help along the way when you need it. Mariela has integrity because her life reflects exactly what she believes.

Congratulations Mariela! You have a bright future!

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