Carlos Polanco '21 named National Youth of the Year
Carlos Polanco '21 was named National Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Clubs, out of six finalists.
Carlos Polanco ’21, known by some at Dartmouth as one of the students who wrote a letter to University of Virginia’s Class of 2021 following the Charlottesville protests, was named National Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America on Sept. 26.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which has chapters in various cities throughout the U.S., provides a variety of after school programs for America’s youth. To select the recipient of the award, a panel of judges assesses applicants on a variety of criteria, including involvement in their club and the surrounding community, according to Paula Benjamin, the program director of the Boys and Girls Club in Clifton, New Jersey, where Polanco lives. Another factor of assessment is public speaking, particularly in articulating their personal background and their academic performance, she said.
According to the Boys and Girls Clubs’ website, thousands of youth participate in Youth of the Year events at the local, state and regional level. Through these competitions, six youth — five regional winners and one national military youth winner — are selected to advance to the National Youth of the Year Gala and Celebration Dinner in Washington, D.C. Of these six candidates, one is selected as the National Youth of the Year.
Through this award, Polanco will act as the voice for the four million youth who participate in these clubs for the next year, according to Robert Foster, the executive director of Boys and Girls Club in Clifton.
“I never expected to represent four million kids and to be that voice.” Polanco said. “I realized what can come to you when you reach out to people.”
Polanco has been a part of the Boys and Girls Club in Clifton since he was 12 years old and remained involved through his high school years. Foster called his path to winning this award a “success story” and commended Polanco’s determination.
“[Polanco] took advantage of every opportunity to pursue his dream,” Foster said.
Polanco described the meaningful impact that the club has had on him.
“[The members of the club] genuinely care for me, and [they] will always be there,” Polanco said in a video statement after becoming a regional Youth of the Year winner. “This journey showed me that no matter how far I think I can go, I can go further.”
Through this award, Polanco has met New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Bob Menendez, he said. He also had the opportunity to design his own custom Toyota Corolla, which he did on Monday, he said. In two weeks, he will throw the first pitch at the World Series game.
Polanco will also receive a total of $145,000 in scholarships, including $45,000 in scholarship money he received as a regional finalist and an additional $25,000 after receiving the Youth of the Year award, which he can renew for the next three years, accumulating to a total of $100,000. He also received a free trip to Disney World, which he will use this year with his family.
In the upcoming year, Polanco will travel at least three times per term to connect with chief executive officers, leaders of the nation and legislators to work on issues today’s youth face, he said.
By winning this award, Polanco will be working to shape the very programs he once participated in. He already has ideas on how to voice the concerns of today’s youth, such as expanding the meal programs that Boys and Girls Clubs provide, from two meals per day to three, and bolstering the current mentorship program that the club facilitates.
Associate director of the Boys and Girls Club in Clifton Greg Reinholt noted that Polanco’s concern extends beyond just the youth involved in the Boys and Girls Clubs.
“Oftentimes we see ourselves as the entire world, and [Polanco] has helped us advocate for youth outside of our walls,” Reinholt said.
On campus, Polanco is a member of the First-Year Student Enrichment Program, which provides mentoring for first-generation first-year students.
FYSEP director Jay Davis ’90 noted that Polanco’s belief in others is contagious.
“It was clear from the moment I met [Polanco] that he has a remarkable life force, ability to connect with others [and] passion for social justice issues,” Davis said. “There’s no question that he will make a dramatic impact, particularly in helping people connect across differences towards improving the world they live in.”