The Lebanon Boys & Girls Club was a haven for Mason McKendry, who began coming to the club in fourth grade.
“It was definitely a safe space. It got me out of a hectic day-to-day life and I was able to go to the club from 3 to 6 and everything was OK. No one cared about what was going on outside and nobody cared about how I behaved at school, it was just ‘hanging out with Mason.’ It was really a safe space,” McKendry said.
A junior at Ralston Academy, McKendry is now a staff member at the club, leading the gymnasium group in the after-school program.
He was one of five individuals nominated for the 2020 Youth of the Year award given by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam. The other candidates were:
• Dawnmarie Rose (Ralston Academy).
• Jack Frietag (Lebanon High School).
• Abigail Jernejcic (Sweet Home High School).
• Victoria Shelton (Ralston Academy).
All of the candidates now work for the Boys & Girls Clubs, passing along the lessons they learned as club members. Each nominee submitted an essay and underwent personal interviews with the three judges: Rebecca Grizzle (Lebanon Chamber of Commerce and City Council), Kerry Johnson (Douglas Johnson DDS), and Rose Peda (Sweet Home Public Library).
Kris Latimer, the executive director of the Santiam clubs, said the award is presented each year to a young person whose life was shaped by the programs and services offered at the club.
“An individual that has a club experience, the club has had an impact on their lives,” Latimer said.
Tyler Reece, the program operations director for the clubs, said the award criteria are based on the goals for every young the clubs serve.
“The three pillars are academic excellence, character and leadership and a healthy lifestyle. Those are three pillars that we have across all of our after-school programs, but especially youth of the year, we want to make sure that youth of the year highlights those three,” Reece said.
The event was sponsored by the Weyerhaeuser Santiam mill and was held at Pineway Golf Course.
Latimer said this was the strongest group of candidates ever for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam, which now has 87 staff members and serves more than 600 young people every day. The organization has grown to have an annual budget of $2.4 million.
Reece acknowledged that mentoring McKendry wasn’t always easy.
“Mason McKendry has always had a really cool place in my heart. A lot of people that work with me might not know this, but he was my first challenge. What I mean by that is, he came in, he challenged my knowledge of what I was doing, my practices, my youth practices, and also my patience. He still does that today, just a little bit,” Reece said. “He’s a kid that has overcome so much. Today, he’s leading our gym at our Lebanon after-school program. He attends Ralston Academy and is on pace to graduate, which is something that he should be very proud of.”
Looking to the future, McKendry said his goal after graduation is to go to college and become a juvenile probation officer.
“Growing up, I didn’t really have a dad, he was kind of really in and out, we butted heads a lot, wasn’t really a healthy person to have,” McKendry said. “I had a probation officer for a good chunk of my juvenile days, five years roughly, and he was kind of like a dad to me. He was a man I had in my life who stayed around. I called him every week so he knew what was going on in my day-to-day life and he’d come in and check on me at school. He played a really active role and cared about me a lot and he helped me. I’d like to do the same.”
As the honoree, McKendry receives a $1,000 scholarship and moves on to the statewide competition. Winners can advance to a regional and then a national competition. The scholarship was funded equally by Jim & Heather McDaniel and the Lebanon Presbyterian Church.