OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands have named their 2021 youth of year, a young woman who wants to pull from her experience of being a bilingual child to help break down language barriers for others.
Ninel Navaja-Gomez has received the honor of Youth of the Year. She has been with the Henry Davis Bryan Middle Club for about three years.
At the award ceremony on Wednesday night, she shared how the club helped her overcome feeling out of place as a bilingual child put in the role of translating for a parent.
"It was awkward," Navaja-Gomez said. "I kept thinking that we didn't fit in. Moments like this remind me how common these experiences are."
The young woman said she sees the issues with bilingual kids in the Boys and Girls Clubs, and relates to the feeling of being hesitant to participate. After some time, she decided to get comfortable being uncomfortable and get more involved in the club.
"Not only did I fit in, I flourished," Navaja-Gomez said.
Navaja-Gomez says she's not only found a place she's fit in through the club, but is finding a path toward her future. She plans to study foreign language and literature at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
"I want to teach communities that need help breaking down that language barrier that affects us all," Navaja-Gomez said. "As a daughter of two immigrant parents in America, I know first hand what it's like to feel like an outcast, simply because you cannot speak like the majority."
For receiving youth of the year, she was awarded a $5,000 renewable scholarship to go toward her collegiate goals. She will go on to compete at the Boys and Girls Club at the state, regional and national level, where she could win even more scholarships.
Five other young people who had won Youth of the Year at their individual clubs competed for the prize Wednesday night. They are Trevon Allen-Williams with the Mount View Club, Xiomara Avila Perez with the Carl & Joyce Mammel South Omaha Club, Jermaine Jones Jr. with the Bruce Fellman North Omaha Club, Breion Townes with the Hawkins Family Westside Club and Sidney Weaver with the H.H. “Red” & Ruth Nelson Council Bluffs Club.