By CLAY NEELY|Oct. 24, 2019 – 9:16 PM
Like many teenagers, Justin Wallace keeps a busy schedule. But this Newnan High School student is a little different.
Wallace was recently named the 2020 winner of the Youth of the Year award from the Newnan-Coweta Boys & Girls Club.
The prestigious Youth of the Year award is BGCMA’s highest honor, recognizing teens from clubs in the metro Atlanta area who are working hard, investing in themselves, and demonstrating leadership in their schools, clubs and communities.
Wallace said since joining the program seven years ago, the club has been an invaluable resource in navigating his life and the goals he’s set for himself going into the future.
His foster parents placed him in the club with the hopes it would help shape Wallace and allow him to reach his fullest potential.
“They said it would help me grow, mature and become a leader,” Wallace said. “Before I was with the club, I didn’t even really know what college was or what life would be like beyond high school.”
In the last seven years, Wallace has become involved in a number of other club programs including the Passport to Manhood male empowerment and leadership program and oratorical and cooking clubs.
Wallace and the other members of his Keystone Club, a service and leadership group for teens ages 14-18, have vowed to “Keep Newnan Beautiful” through the Adopt-a-Street program.
“We’re so excited about these teens’ accomplishments,” said Executive Director Lauren Odom. “Despite the steep hurdles many of these youth face, they continue to develop into strong young leaders with clear voices who are positively impacting not only their own lives, but the lives of their peers and the community around them.”
On National Firefighters Day, Wallace’s club donated goodies and treats to the Newnan firefighters to thank them for keeping the city safe. He and other members had fun sliding down the emergency slide in the station.
Through a partnership with Jack and Jill of America and Newnan’s sibling club, Howard Warner, Wallace helped organize a toiletry drive for Avalon Health and Rehabilitation, a local nursing home in Newnan. He and a few other club members distributed the goods personally and visited with residents.
Working around his after-school job supervising youth at Monkey Joe’s, Wallace also finds time to tutor children enrolled at the B.Y.R.D. House youth-service organization.
Wallace said the Boys & Girls Club has shown the importance of community and taking an active role in leadership. He cites the trait of integrity as one of the most valuable lessons he’s learned since joining.
“It’s about doing the right thing when others aren’t watching,” he said.
It’s not uncommon for Wallace to be seen picking up trash, sweeping driveways and doing odd jobs for neighbors that help keep the Newnan Boys & Girls Club’s community beautiful, according to Odom.
He’s also a proponent of youth advocacy, believing kids and teens can empower others to make an impact by speaking up for what’s right to make the world a better place.
Wallace is a member of CareerBound, a program that provides job shadowing, skills prep, college tours and other opportunities to equip teens for life after high school.
He’s formed important connections with Odom and former staff member Tyler Reid. Wallace credits the club staff with being a support system that helps keep him on a positive track in the club and throughout the Newnan community.
This year, Wallace, along with winners from about 20 other Boys & Girls Club locations, will be honored at the annual Youth of the Year Fundraising Gala on Friday, Nov. 8 at the Delta Flight Museum.
Nearly 500 attendees – including local politicians, business leaders and advocates – are expected to attend this year’s Youth of the Year celebration. The honorees will compete for the title of Metro Atlanta Youth of the Year.
In addition to the year-long program, local honorees participate in eight weeks of intensive preparation for the final competition. With help from mentors, teens work to fine-tune skills related to interviewing, networking, writing and public speaking.
“We provide a safe place where thousands of kids and teens flourish each day and we want to make sure they continue to thrive when they leave our doors,” said Odom. “Programs like this teach kids critical 21st century skills they can use in life and their careers.”
Echoing this year’s theme, Ready. Set. Fly, the 2019 honorees have their sights set on their future and are ready to take off in both their academic and career pursuits after high school.
Wallace said he wants to attend college and study forensic science or sports journalism. He said he dreams of opening a recreation center where at-risk teens can develop their athletic skills.
He said believes it’s important to give back and credits Odom, Reid and his mother for placing him on the track to success.
“They’ve laid the foundation to help me become the person I want to be in life,” he said.