The Boys and Girls Clubs of America recently awarded the title of Midwest Regional Youth of the Year to a Valpo freshman. Tékeidra Masters, a biology major and a four year member of the Boys and Girls Club, was rewarded for the work she has done in her hometown of Benton Harbor, Mich.
“Youth of the Year is basically an award to just honor what you’re doing for the youth across the nation and in your communities. Essentially it means that as a youth, you are doing things that even adults are not doing for your community, you’re finding ways to help teens across the nation,” Masters said.
As Youth of the Year, Masters and five other students from across the country act as ambassadors for their respective regions, with Masters overseeing the 14 states of the Midwest. She uses her platform to encourage youth to speak their minds and listen to problems within their community.
Masters was recognized with the title as a reward for the program she developed, Becoming Future Friends (BFF), to combat the hardships she faced in her youth.
“I used to get bullied, I used to always think I didn’t want my little sister to feel the same feeling of you don’t belong or you’re the oddball out. I didn’t want [my sister] to feel like she had to conform to the idea of what a high school student is supposed to act like. I wasn’t okay with kids growing up and getting bullied,” Masters said.
Masters’ program is one of the leading impacts she’s had on her community. There are two parts to BFF: experience and discussion. Teens gain experience by working with local leaders to find their passions. The discussions consist of controversial topics that affect the nation, such as the George Floyd protests, LGBTQ+ topics and politics.
“We don’t really talk about bullying, it’s under talked about, it’s so normalized. [BFF] is a program that combats this national underestimated issue that happens to teens, it’s an anti-bullying program,” Masters said.
The Valpo freshman anticipates that her program will soon become a nonprofit organization that will help teenagers across the country.
“You can come to this program and be 100% yourself, unapologetically, and be accepted. I’m dedicated to implementing the change I know my community needs,” Masters said.
Along with creating the BFF program, the Youth of the Year recipient was also recognized for the actions she took in her community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, I noticed that some kids that were coming to school didn’t have access to adequate food nutritions at home. So I started a grab and go meal service, passing out breakfast, lunch and dinner to kids who didn’t have those food resources at home. I was also passing out homework and coloring books to the little kids,” Masters said.
Masters utilizes spaces in the Christopher Center Library on campus for her ongoing meetings with the Boys and Girls Club executive board. Sam Simpson, a Christopher Center circulation manager, helped to reserve and provide the spaces for Masters.
“I made sure she was able to do everything she needed to do and answer her questions [so she could] have the virtual experience. She is an amazing student and Valpo is very lucky she chose to come here and be a part of our family,” Simpson said.
While Masters does admit that numerous things motivate her, she credits her main inspiration to be her family.
“My family really motivates me to go out and be more and do more, because I just want to go back and give to them what they’ve given to me growing up,” Masters said.
Masters is already heavily involved in her new community and is currently a member of the Black Student Organization, Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity and the Persistence and Success Program.
“I know that Valparaiso is a home away from home for me, so I’m going to do just as much for this community that I’ve ever been a part of,” Masters said.