Boys & Girls Clubs’ Youth of the Year: ‘Where many are lonely, I will be their ally’

Even before Elsie Cordero won the Youth of the Year Award from the Boys & Girls Clubs of West San Gabriel Valley & Eastside, there was one thing she knew.

“Without the club, I could have been another girl whose dad got deported, lost hope and possibly dropped out of school,” the 16-year-old said. “Thanks to the club, I have not lost hope, I have not dropped out of school, and I know where I want to go and what I want to achieve in my life.”

Elsie, a sophomore at Roosevelt High in Los Angeles, was chosen among candidates from La Puente and Monterey Park, as well as two other public housing sites in L.A. She lives with her mother and three older sisters at Estrada Courts, an apartment complex in Boyle Heights.

Since she was 10, Elsie has been part of club programs nearby, growing into a leader in various initiatives, including its substance abuse prevention and education program called “Brent’s Club.” She also pops in most Saturdays to the Teen Post, a local shop run by the club that allows teens to create and sell products.

A daughter of Mexican-born parents, Elsie is an advocate for human rights and hopes to one day become an immigration lawyer. With her father unable to rejoin his family, Elsie’s mother Maria is head of the household and works as a textile factory line worker.

“Like most immigrants, they came to America to give their future children a better life,” Elsie said. “I admire the courage and strength they had to come to America, work hard, and start a family. My parents have taught me to help those who don’t have the resources to help themselves, and to keep working hard and do great in school.”

Elsie is doing just that, as she is doing well in academics and leadership.

“Not only do I like to voice my opinions at school, but I also like to listen to my classmates’ ideas and prioritize collaboration and teamwork to complete tasks,” she said.

But the Boys & Girls Club is a special haven.

“The club is a place where I can be myself and not have the fear of being judged,” Elsie said. “It is my safe place in a world that is constantly changing. The club has also offered me so many opportunities and I have gained numerous abilities including teamwork, leadership, responsibility and confidence. Before the club, I had zero confidence, but the staff taught me to believe in myself. The staff at the club have proven to be more than staff, they have become my family, always checking in on me and stopping by to chat.

“In times where everything is uncertain, the club has cared for me and brought down my walls, allowing me to express my voice, never give up on myself and ultimately follow my dreams to one day become an immigration lawyer. I am a strong, independent female who can accomplish anything I want in life, especially with the help of my Boys & Girls Club.”

Elsie said she is blessed to have been able to visit amazing places.

“With a single mom working Monday through Saturday, my family and I have not been able to go out like we used to,” she said. “The club has taken me sailing at Marina Del Rey, exploring at Catalina Island, experiencing a Dodger Stadium suite during the World Series, and so much more. These experiences have been the best moments of my life, making me realize there is more to life than the obstacles you face.”

“Our youth face so many external and internal hardships that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but Elsie is a beacon of light and hope to everyone around her,” said JR Dzubak, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of West San Gabriel Valley & Eastside. “We are so proud of Elsie for her leadership and willingness to help those who need it most. She is an inspiration for youth to be proud of who they are, where they come from, and all the good they can bring into this world.”

Elsie said even at 16, she holds her hard-won wisdom close.

“Although life is not fair, I will always maintain a positive attitude and do my best to help out my mom and family,” she said. “I’ve also realized that in order to be able go on more adventures and experience more in life outside my neighborhood, I will need to graduate high school, attend college and find a career to ensure I am financially stable to provide for my mom. Once I can financially provide for my family, I hope I can also continue to give back to my community and help the most vulnerable.”

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