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Youth of the Year
Jimena Villalobos, 16, was named the Boys & Girls Club of Vista’s overall Youth of the Year and awarded a $1,500 scholarship. Courtesy photo
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Vista teen a ‘perfect’ example of Boys & Girls Club

VISTA — Each year one member is selected as the club’s very best.

The competition is more than 40 years old and part of the fabric of the Boys & Girls Club. In Vista, this year’s overall winner of Youth of the Year was an obvious choice to those staff members who’ve watched her grow over the past six or seven years.

And on March 10, Jimena Villalobos, a 16-year-old junior at Guajome Park Academy, will participate in the countywide contest representing her club in Del Mar. She will also take center stage at the club’s 10th annual gala on March 7 at the Westin Carlsbad, which is the biggest fundraiser of the year.

For winning the Vista club’s Youth of the Year, Villalobos earned a $1,500 scholarship and if she wins the regional competition, she’ll tack on another scholarship worth several thousand dollars.

Each year the Vista club hands out 25 winners over a range of disciplines from poetry to athletics.

“For me, it’s the best night of the year,” said Matt Koumaras, the club’s chief executive officer. “I like it because we get to honor kids across all the departments.”

Jimena Villalobos, left, lays on the ground with her friends and was recently named the Boys & Girls Club of Vista’s overall Youth of the Year. She is an active member in the club and her school, Guajome Park Academy, through sports, dance, drama and community service projects. Courtesy photo

Villalobos has been a rising star at the club for years, Raul Castillo, director of operations and programs, said. He said her natural leadership abilities draw other kids, especially younger ones, to her whether it’s for dance programs, gardening or other interests.

In school, Villalobos earns As and Bs, plays softball and volleyball, is in the student council and is a member of the Key (community service) and conservation clubs. Once she graduates, she plans on attending the University of California, Davis to major in forensic science or dance.

At the club, she helps the staff checking in and out other kids or she can be found in the art shop or working with kids on their dance moves. She’s also been involved with the Torch Club, a community service project, drama and being active with a healthy lifestyle.

“The whole process was quite difficult,” Villalobos said. “It really made me question everything that I do. I was surprised that I was chosen. This whole experience was overwhelming and I’m just thankful.”

Youth of the Year is a nationwide program created in the 1940s, Koumaras said. It honors the best member of each club, who must show a variety of success such as academics, community service and club involvement, to name a few.

As for Villalobos, Koumaras said her leadership and her natural ability to connect with the younger kids has been a valuable part of the club.

“She is the perfect example of what we do … a kid with a great future,” he added. “Her school has given her a great future. We’ve given her a great future and when you combine that, you can’t lose.”

The Vista club was formed in 1963 and has called its 410 W. California Ave. location home since 1966, Koumaras said. The other locations include three schools and at Raintree Park Learning Center.

As for the gala, Koumaras said this year it will be a James Bond theme featuring a casino night. The proceeds help offset the actual cost for each of the 1,200 members across five locations in Vista and Oceanside, he added.

The event will be emceed by Mari Payton of NBC 7 along with special guest, retired San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.

“Our annual membership fee is 50 bucks a year,” Koumaras said. “The actual cost per club members is $700 per child. It’s through this event that we can break that down and serve more kids.”