Three years ago Alexia Lewis was a shy Oakcrest high school sophomore, who barely spoke.
On Wednesday she showed the impact a club can make when she was named the state Youth of the Year by the New Jersey Boys and Girls Club at an event at Stockton University.
“We are so excited,” said Chris Volker, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Vineland, where Lewis is president of the Keystone Club and founder of the “You Can Too” club for middle school students.
“She was so quiet when she first started, but within a year it was like watching a butterfly come out of a cocoon,” Volker said. “She had to overcome some hurdles, but she has such a bright future.”
Lewis, 17, lives in the Mizpah section of Hamilton Township. She said a family member suggested she join the Boys and Girls Club when here family was going through some hard times. She talked to her father, who agreed to visit.
“As soon as I got there, it was like they really wanted me to be there, even though they didn’t know me,” Lewis said. “It was such a great place for me to be. It inspired me to want to do more with my life.”
She started the "You Can Too" club to motivate middle school students and said she has seen an impact even after just a few months.
“We talk about goal-setting, and how to reach them,” she said. “At first, some just wanted to get out of high school. Now they are talking about college.”
She said she got emotional at the ceremony reminiscing about how far she has come, and what the club has meant to her. She said she is there every day.
“The club always comes first because of what they have done for me,” she said.
Volker said they welcome all who want to join.
“Alexia is an exceptional young person,” he said. “But we try to be a safe and comfortable place for all kids.”
Lewis, who plans to be a lawyer, will attend Hampton University in Virginia in the fall majoring in political science. As the state winner she will receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Boys and Girls Club of New Jersey and $5,000 from the Boys and Girls Club of America. She now goes on to the Northeast Regional competition.
Lewis is also Captain of the dance team at Oakcrest. Her community service activities include a 21 Down Buddy walk to bring awareness to children with Down syndrome.
Lewis is the second state winner from the Vineland club. Last year Jennifer Negron from Vineland took the state award. They continue a trend of South Jersey winners, which include four from the Atlantic City Boys and Girls Club: Sparkle Prevard in 2012, Frankie Watson in 2011, Rose Mary Carmona in 2010 ad Cristal Millan in 2008. Prevard, now a Stockton student, went on to become the Northeast Regional winner and met President Obama at the national event.
Rikeya Ward, the Atlantic City Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year, was a runner-up at the state event, and received a $3,500 scholarship. All 18 local club winners received a $2,000 scholarship.