OCEANSIDE — Julie Hernandez was honored with the Boys & Girls Club San Diego County Youth of the Year award in February, and will go on to compete for California Youth of the Year and a $5,000 college scholarship.
Hernandez said she has grown a lot since her first day at the Oceanside Boys & Girls Club afterschool program at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School.
“I only knew one person there and at the moment I wasn’t even sure how to correctly sign in,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said she soon gained a new club family.
“I found a sense of importance and community, which at that point in my life I really needed,” Hernandez said. “It was my safe haven.”
A big accomplishment was getting over her shyness through participating in the club’s performing arts program.
“I can now tolerate standing up in front of people and speaking or singing,” Hernandez said. “Whenever I do feel scared I fidget with a couple of paper clips and it helps me calm down.”
She also honed her academics and is graduating from El Camino High School a year early with a 4.6 grade point average and her sights set on a career in biochemistry.
Hernandez’s newfound confidence allowed her to take on the responsibility of running the club afterschool snack shack, where she met every kid at the club. She also learned finances and how to quickly count back change.
Other leadership experiences included serving as Keystone club treasurer and vice president, and attending the Youth Symposiums and camp DigiGirls.
“The club has given me a sense of self-worth and it makes me feel like I am a valued person who is capable of so many great things,” Hernandez said.
Like other kids she wrestled with her family’s ups and downs. After her parents separated her mom, who is a nurse, had to take on extra work to make ends meet and could no longer drive her home from the Boys & Girls Club afterschool program. Luckily friends were able to give her a ride and were there to listen to her.
Hernandez also credits the club with providing a place she could still feel like a kid.
“I will forever be grateful for that,” Hernandez said. “I continue to learn new things about me, and when I look back I can proudly smile and tell myself you did it.”
Hernandez said her wish is to boost the esteem of other kids through encouraging them to have a healthy respect for themselves.
“By loving themselves and the others around them they will lose insecurities and gain respect for themselves and others,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said an important step in gaining self respect is to say no and mean it, which also allows you to say yes and mean it.
Other advice she has is to love your body type, recognize your positive qualities, do not judge others and look for happiness within yourself.