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Polina Past, 16, and Maria De Lo Mora, 17, pose for a post victory photograph in the library on Monday at Carlsbad High School. Photo by Shana Thompson
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Carlsbad teens earn scholarships from Boys & Girls Club

CARLSBAD — A pair of Carlsbad High School teenagers battling tough environments have earned a pair of scholarships through the Boys & Girls Club of Carlsbad.

Maria De Lo Mora, 17, and Polina Past, 16, were tapped by the club as its annual Youth of the Year winners. De Lo Mora, a junior, was the overall winner, collecting a $10,000 scholarship, while Past, a sophomore, won $1,500.

Liz Hopley, the club’s teen program director, said the annual Youths of the Year feature a speech competition with the winner advancing to a countywide competition against other winners.

De Lo Mora said her speech detailed her journey from Tijuana, Mexico, to Carlsbad nine years ago. She didn’t speak English, but her father had her join the Village clubhouse to assimilate to her new surroundings and culture.

Since then, she has moved from the clubhouse to the Armory, the teen program at Carlsbad High, which averages about 60 kids per day. Her nine years at the club, De Lo Mora added, has allowed her to make friends, develop leadership skills, confidence and engage in her passion for serving others.

“They focus on how you succeed through the help of the Boys & Girls Club,” she said of the judges of the competition. “My dad wanted us (she and two siblings) to have some place to go after school. That’s what really helped us break out of our shell.”

She said her goal is to enroll at the University of California, San Diego or UCLA and study either psychology or dance. De Lo Mora has danced for six years total, with a break between, but is enrolled in a dance class at Carlsbad High.

Her newfound confidence also has led De Lo Mora to join the speech and debate team.

Hopley said the kids also perform numerous volunteer hours, which helps them met the school-mandated 20 hours for graduation.

“We do the Humane Society, Carlsbad by the Sea retirement community and go over to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation,” she added. “It’s a cool piece of what we offer the kids.”

Past’s speech, meanwhile, also detailed difficulties early in life and family hardships. She was “forced” to join the Armory, but has grown to be active and enjoying her time in the after-school program.

When she’s not volunteering or at the Armory, Past stays active and made the girls varsity soccer team this year.

Like De Lo Mora, Past has her sights set on college with the goals of studying biomedicine and becoming a doctor. Additionally, her school of choice is UCLA, although she said her father is encouraging her to shoot for admittance to Stanford.

One of the bonuses of the Armory, Past said, is the ability to tutor and teach other classmates.

“Through being here, I’ve learned to really enjoy it,” Past said. “Just being able to work on my loads of homework has really helped.”

De Lo Mora and Past, meanwhile, can compete next year to win more scholarship money through the county and local competitions, respectively. The Boys & Girls Club also holds state, regional and national competitions as winners of each advance to the next stage.

Julie and Matt Harelson donated the $10,000 and Keith Blackburn donated $1,500 for the scholarships.