LAWRENCE — Joel Javier is not your typical Boys & Girls Club member.
Rather than hitting the parquet for a game of hoops, Javier, 17, a senior at Greater Lawrence Technical School, is just as likely to show up in the computer lab at the popular Water Street facility.
When he was 13, he says, he didn't earn good grades and was often picked on due to his "awkwardness."
His parents signed him up for the club that summer despite his fear that he would be picked on there, too. However, he quickly found a group of friends with common interests at the Clubhouse Network Computer Lab, and decided to continue his membership for the upcoming school year and beyond.
“The club changed me," Javier said. "The staff taught me how it is OK to be who you are, and how I do not need to have everyone like me in order to do so. You can’t be someone if no one was there to help build you up.”
In return, Javier has given back to the club and the community, which recently earned him the honor of being chosen as the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year.
"To be honest, I am very shocked that I won," he said. "It was such a great and huge surprise to me that I was able to win something so big from the Boys & Girls Club. The other participants in the Youth of the Year competition were all good friends of mine and they supported me and I was extremely grateful for it."
According to club spokeswoman Cindy Cantrell, Javier "was selected as Youth of the Year because he is civic-minded and strives to set an example for younger youth members by being the best role model he can be."
Not only does he help out in the computer lab teaching coding, but he is also treasurer of the Keystone Club, a service group for high-school age youth members. As a member of the organization, Javier helps serve supper to younger members and clean up around the club.
He also travels to conferences throughout the country for leadership conferences and participates in the Highland Street Foundation Youth Philanthropy Initiative, a Newton, Massachusetts, based non-profit that encourages youth to raise money for worthy charities.
Recently, the organization presented grants to two local organizations: $3,300 for Lawrence General Hospital to purchase comfortable new seating for its Maternal & Child Special Care Nursery, and $1,700 to fund art therapy programs for young adults with autism at Fidelity House.
While Javier flexes his mind in the computer lab, he also hits the gym to work out with friends.
At home, he cares for his sister, who is 8, and brother, who is 3, while his mother works.
According to Cantrell, he aspires to a career in Information Technology, focusing on computer hardware and programming. At Greater Lawrence Technical School, where he is studying information technology, he has a grade point average of 3.7, which puts him in the top 10% of his class.
He is a member of the National Honor Society and the Reggie Leaders, which participates in community service and school spirit events.
Javier says he owes it all to the folks at the Boys & Girls Club.
"The staff gave me good advice to help with school and helped me evolve into maturity," he said. "With their help, my grades improved significantly. I realized I wanted to study technology at the club, which led me to apply and attend the Greater Lawrence Technical School. The Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence helped me better understand myself and I learned how to overcome my social awkwardness. I have learned how to be myself in any situation. I am forever grateful for what the club has done for me and for the friends I made over there."
The next step for Javier is to compete for Massachusetts Youth of the Year.
"I am a little nervous about the state competition but I am also excited to take part in it," he said. "In the end, whether I win or lose, I am just happy to be able to represent the club."
The state Youths of the Year then vie for the big prize, National Youth of the Year. Two alumni of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence have been honored as National Youth of the Year, including Socrates De La Cruz and Raymond Nuñez, in 1991 and 2001, respectively.
Another two were named runner-up to the National Youth of the Year: Radhames Nova, 1993; and Noelia Bare, 2004. Three club members have been named Massachusetts Youth of the Year: Hector Mancebo, 1999; Jennifer Brenes, 2005; and Briyith Betances, 2013.
BOYS & GIRLS CLUB AWARD FINALISTS
* Ronald Luciano, 17, senior at Greater Lawrence Technical School
* Mirabella Ortiz, 17, senior at Lawrence High School
* Kaylee Sostre, 18, senior at Lawrence High School
* Ali Bou, 17, senior at Greater Lawrence Technical School
* Joel Javier, 17, senior at Greater Lawrence Technical School *
* Denotes winner