AC JosepH Media
VINELAND – Vineland High School senior Melia Gaines was named the New Jersey Boys & Girls Youth of the Year on May 24 and now moves on the regional Youth of the Year competition.
Gaines, a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Cumberland County, won the honor against 16 other club Youth of the Year recipients, recognized for her leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to live a healthy lifestyle.
As the New Jersey winner, Gaines will serve as an ambassador for all teens in the state and will receive a $12,500 college scholarship from Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“For me, [being named Cumberland Boys & Girls Club youth of the year] has been a great experience,” Gaines told Front Runner New Jersey last August when she received the local club award. “I would say it’s one to remember knowing that I was the one chosen from my area for my club. It’s something that I will definitely remember for the rest of my life.”
At the time, Gaines said she wanted to study neonatal nursing and pediatric nursing in college, inspired in part because she and her twin sister Melina were born premature.
Gaines will go on to contend for the Northeast Regional Youth of the Year and ultimately the national title. She has been a member of the Cumberland County Boys & Girls Club 12 years where she has participated in various programs that helped her find her voice to speak about important issues with her peers.
She served as president of the Keystone Club, a teen group dedicated to leadership and community service, and participated in more than 2,000 hours of community service work in her local community over the past several years.
Gaines has maintained a 4.1 GPA at Vineland H.S. and was admitted to the National Honor Society. She will graduate this June and will attend prestigious HBCU Howard University in the fall. She participated in Power Hour, which helped her maintain her high grades and SMART Girls, in which she was able to learn how to become an independent and fierce young woman.
She started her own dance program at the club with her twin sister, titled Dance 360, in which she uses various dance styles to combat racism. Gaines was also a panelist on a recent Youth Bias event held by the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office in which she related her experiences of racial bias in school.
Her platform is fighting racial disparity in the healthcare system.
“We are incredibly proud of Melia and all the Youth of the Year nominees,” said Susan Haspel, State Director of Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey in a statement. “Being named NJ Youth of the Year is a lifelong honor. As the New Jersey Youth of the Year, Melia will serve as a spokesperson for Boys & Girls Club kids and teens across the state as a role model that they can admire and emulate.”
This June, Gaines will join other state winners to vie for the Northeast regional title. If named the regional winner, she will be awarded an additional $20,000 college scholarship. Six youth, including five regional winners and a military youth winner, will advance to the virtual National Youth of the Year event in September 2021 to compete for the title of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Youth of the Year.
The National Youth of the Year will receive an additional scholarship of $50,000 and a brand-new Toyota Corolla. For more information about the Youth of the Year program, visit www.youthoftheyear.org.
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