Breaking the mold

Bridesburg Boys and Girls Club member named citywide Youth of the Year, presents platform on bullying and being yourself

A banner year: David Waskiewicz was named the citywide Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia Youth of the Year and will compete at the state level in April. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

When Bridesburg Boys and Girls Club member David Waskiewicz entered his freshman year in high school, he set out to become the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia citywide Youth of the Year.

Now a senior at Roman Catholic High School, the 17-year-old realized that goal when on Jan. 17, in front of more than 300 people and at his own club, he was named the citywide Youth of the Year for the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia, which has been a premier recognition program for members nationally since 1947.

“From doing this since freshman year and having this as my dream and being persistent, I had to do a double-take. It wasn’t real to me,” he said. “From all the work I put into it from freshman year to now, it just made it all worth it. It’s an amazing title and honor to have.”

To obtain the honor, Waskiewicz gave a speech before a panel of judges and then interviewed with each individual judge, 10 in total, for 10 minutes, submitted three essays, obtained recommendation letters, and compiled a list of awards he has received during his time with the club.

Waskiewicz was one of 11 candidates from nine clubs and his platform centered on an issue he has experienced first-hand: bullying.

“Growing up I was bullied and so my whole platform is no one should feel they should change their appearance or what they love to do,” he said. “All kids should grow up happy with who they are and be OK with being unique and being their own person.”

Giving his speech was “nerve-wracking,” but having a moment to talk about the impact the Boys and Girls Club has had on his life is “a great experience” and “means the world to me,” Waskiewicz added.

Being able to compete at the city level was no easy feat.

“David was the Bridesburg Club’s Youth of the Year last year and he was one of our Youth of the Year this year,” said Mare Shipton, director of youth and family services and programs at the club. “We have our Unit Council which does the judging and it was a tough year this year. We had a lot of seniors. But David was selected because his involvement in the club and in the community is unprecedented. And he has a pretty impressive platform.”

But before he was named citywide Youth of the Year and working to put an end to bullying, Waskiewicz was just another 7-year-old whose mom signed him up at the Boys and Girls Club along with his older sister and older brother.

“My mom signed us all up and I always say it was one of the best things she ever did for us,” he said. “I just remember walking into this welcoming environment.”

The Boys and Girls Club allowed Waskiewicz to realize he didn’t have to participate in what was considered the more traditional boy programs, that he could pursue his own passions.

“I’ve been involved in the baking program here and that’s one of the main things that really helped me realize I don’t have to stick to what all the other boys did,” Waskiewicz said. “Growing up, I always felt like I had to play sports because that’s what the other boys did, but when I came here and Miss Lorraine welcomed me into the kitchen and I soon realized I didn’t have to go to the back gym to play basketball and soccer, that I was able to go to the kitchen.”

David spends a few moments in the kitchen where he learned the recipes for lifelong lessons about being yourself. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

Although he grew out of the program, he still regularly helps the younger members who participate.

Aside from baking, Waskiewicz participated in the Torch Club, a leadership program for the younger members.

“That started my passion for community service and volunteering and giving back to my community. That’s where I learned my leadership skills and I became president my seventh- and eighth-grade year,” he said. “It pushed me and helped me realize I could lead others to do great things in our community.”

It also gave him courage his sophomore and junior years to run for president of

the Keystone Club at the Boys and Girls Club, which is the teen-based leadership and community service group.

Waskiewicz won and currently serves as vice president; seniors are ineligible to be president because of the many in-school responsibilities they take on during their final year of high school.

As a leader of the Keystone Club, he helps execute service projects within the club and in the community throughout the year including the upcoming free, annual Easter egg hunt, which is open to the public and requires hiding approximately 3,000 eggs throughout the center.

“David was a driving force in getting that started,” Shipton said.

For the first time, the Keystone Club partnered with Wreaths Across America, the national nonprofit that honors fallen veterans, to donate more than 100 wreaths and a couple of teens participated in the wreath-laying ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery in December.

“It was amazing to see the amount of people who came out to honor the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Waskiewicz said. “To be able to honor all of them was surreal.”

Altogether, he spends about 15 to 20 hours a week at the club and still finds time to excel in school.

Outside of the Boys and Girls Club, Waskiewicz is busy maintaining a 3.8 GPA, serving as secretary of the National Honor Society, participating in Students Against Destructive Decisions and Community Service Corps.

He also steps into the spotlight: For the past two years, Waskiewicz has participated in musicals at Little Flower High School.

He played Gaston in last year’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

“I was 8 years old when I started doing plays in Bridesburg,” he said. “It’s always been fun for me because you usually don’t see boys doing shows and this is something else that helped me realize I don’t have to be like the other guys. That if baking and doing theater is my passion, then I should go out and do it.”

And while Waskiewicz has achieved one of his ultimate goals, there is still work to be done.

Waskiewicz will go on to compete at the state level for Youth of the Year on April 10 and 11 in Harrisburg.

A win at the state level would mean going on to compete at the regional and then national levels, and although victory would be sweet, spreading his platform at the national level would be more meaningful.

“When I came to the Boys and Girls Club, I realized I didn’t have to give in to the bullies and I could be who I wanted to be,” he said. “Not a lot of kids have the same opportunity I had, to be able to go to a Boys and Girls Club and realize you don’t have to be bullied. My platform is to get the word out to the kids who are being bullied that, ‘You are stronger and you can be better.’ You just have to realize your positives and what’s unique about you and go with them.”