"Carolina Correa is one-in-a-million. Literally. The Assumption College first-year beat out one million teens to become the Boys and Girls Club 63rd National Youth of the Year. The honor is awarded to a teen that has made significant contributions to his or her community, overcome adversity and maintained a strong family and spiritual life.
Correa is a seven-year member of the Pawtucket, Rhode Island Boys and Girls Club. A native of Medellin, Columbia, she came to the United States at the age of 12 with her mother, stepfather and younger brother. The club became her haven. Correa's stepfather was battling kidney disease and her mother was forced to work two jobs to support the family.
"A lot of the time I was the adult and the parent in the house because mine weren't there. I had a little brother and I kind of raised him because my mother wasn't able to. At the Boys and Girls Club I felt like I could be a kid," Correa explained. The club was where the teen made her first friend, began a love for swimming and learned to speak English. "I honestly think English is the hardest language to learn" Correa said with a laugh. "You have so many idioms and so many there's and theirs. It was very challenging."
She may have had a difficult time at first, but Correa soon mastered the language. Senior year she took every honors and AP course offered at Shea High School and graduated in the top 3% of her class. The teen expresses gratitude for the encouragement she received at the Boys and Girls Club. "Sometimes [with school work] I thought this is too much. A lot of what I received was motivation to continue and to learn the language and I'm so glad I did."
Swimming became a passion for Correa. Through the Boys and Girls Club, Correa organized a swimming program for minority children. She named it "Splash." The children in the program receive lessons and compete as a team for free. "I feel like nowadays with the economy, swim lessons are a luxury," said Correa. "A lot of families, especially ones with single moms, can't afford it. Some parents work twice-a-day and don't have time to take their kids to swim lessons." Splash is a way for these children to acquire what Correa sees as a form of exercise and a life-saving skill. This year her team of 60 swimmers went undefeated, an accomplishment that brings her great pride. "I absolutely love these kids," she said with a smile. "I honestly have the most diverse team. They have come so far."
The teen is also involved with the Net Smart Program through Cox Communications. The program is paired with John Walsh of America's Most Wanted, to teach Internet safety. Correa is a teen representative for Cox Communications and was chosen to participate in the program. Cox Communications is the second largest communications company in the country.
The nomination process for National Youth of the Year began last February. Correa was approached by a member of her local Boys and Girls Club to complete an application. She answered questions in front of a panel of judges that covered topics like family, future aspirations, moral character and her involvement with the club. The first step was to beat four other candidates to win the local Pawtucket title. Correa did. Next she competed at the state level. She won that too. Correa advanced to the regional competition where she competed as a Northeastern candidate. This category included all of the New England states, Europe and Puerto Rico. Correa and five others advanced to the National Youth of the Year competition. Last week, she took home this title as well.
The final phase of the competition took place in Washington D.C. Correa recalls the shock of winning. Her knees shaking as she sat stunned, listening to the applause that filled the stadium. When she finally made it to the podium for her acceptance speech, Correa did something unconventional. She asked the audience to stand and applaud her mother. Congressmen, CEO's and dozens of other distinguished men and women rose to their feet in tribute to the woman who had worked so hard and sacrificed so much for the teen. "My mother is the most courageous woman I have ever met," Correa told the audience. "And I aspire to be half the woman she is."
Some of the perks of being National Youth of the Year are meeting President Barack Obama and touring the Oval Office, which Correa describes as looking "very nice." As the national spokeswoman for the Boys and Girls Club, Correa will begin meeting with both Congress and the president, touring the country and conducting a number of speaking engagements.
Correa's award has generated a lot of publicity, especially since she is the first female Latina to be honored. She will be meeting with major media outlets like CNN, Fox News and AOL. Unlike previous winners, the teen plans to stay in school during her yearlong campaign. She will continue to attend classes while juggling her new responsibilities. "I'm not your typical freshman" Correa said, "but you make your own limitations. I'm giving up a lot now, but I will benefit so much in the long run."
Staff Writer, Le Provocateur