What began partly as a punishment for skipping school has earned 17-year-old Jacquie Stafford the title Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.
By MICHELE MILLER
Published April 18, 2007
PORT RICHEY - Jacquie Stafford went into the interview wearing a nice pair of slacks and a button-down shirt - and feeling a little underdressed.
Turns out the seven other teenagers who were vying for the opportunity to be named Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay were all wearing suits.
"I was like, arggh!" said Stafford, 17, tossing back her long ash-blond hair and scrunching up her freckled face. "But I must have done something right when I went in there (for the interview) because I won."
After acing that interview in late February, Stafford was honored with the title of Youth of the Year for Tampa Bay.
On April 29, the Ridgewood High School senior will be in Miami, where she will compete against other local winners for the Florida state title and another $1,000 scholarship.
The prize money gets bigger if she moves on after that - $10,000 for the southeast regional title and $15,000 for national Youth of the Year.
The program, in existence since 1947, is sponsored by the Reader's Digest Foundation and honors youths throughout the country for their contributions to their families, their schools, the community and the Boys & Girls Club.
Her home life has sometimes been tumultuous, Stafford said. "I've been separated from my father since I was in sixth grade."
Stafford, who is the oldest child in her family, helps out often at home with chores and her three younger sisters.
She's also on a bowling team at LaneGlo North, where she bowls around a 145 and volunteers for various fundraising events.
Last summer she got a coaching license so she could help her peers. Recently, she's been preparing for upcoming youth bowling tournaments in Winter Haven and Orlando.
Stafford, who also likes to run in local 1K and 5K races, says she used to be into cheerleading but gave that up. At 5 feet 9, she says, "I'm too tall for that now."
The Port Richey Boys & Girls Club has been Stafford's afterschool hangout for the past three years. It's where she can be found five days a week starting a little after 2 p.m.
While other members play pool, she socializes a bit and awaits the arrival of younger kids from Bayonet Point Middle while music plays in the background.
"I love the environment," she says with a smile. "When the kids get here, it gets really loud."
Stafford says she ended up there because she needed volunteer hours, but also because her mom made her go after numerous bouts of skipping school when she was a sophomore.
"I got in so much trouble," she said. "The first time I got a referral, my mom said, 'You are volunteering.' "
"Now I can't stop."
So she spends countless volunteer hours planning car washes and bake sales as president of the club's Keystone Club. She also enjoys playing basketball and football with the middle school set or tutoring kids like 13-year-old Tyler Rhodes.
"She's awesome," said Tyler, who's had some tutoring in math and was named the Junior Youth of the Year at the Port Richey club. "She's talented in sports and academics. She's an overall good person."
"I like helping the kids," Stafford said. "When they get into bad things at school or they have problems at home, I just talk to them."
"She's a real positive role model," said club director Gary Moses, who nominated Stafford for the award. He hopes that her volunteer stint will evolve into a paying position at the club this summer.
That could help out with college expenses for Stafford, who has a 4.166 weighted grade point average at Ridgewood and hopes to attend Pasco-Hernando Community College, where she is currently dual-enrolled in a precalculus class.
"I've been applying for every scholarship I can," said Stafford, who also has her sights set on Florida State University in Tallahassee.
As for after that?
"Everybody's asking me that," she says. "And I have the same answer - I'm not really sure right now."
Whatever the case, Moses says , "The doors are wide open for her right now. She got her foot in there. Now she just has to keep going."