Updated 3/11/2022 2:13 PM
After being announced as the Boys and Girls Club of Elgin’s Youth of the Year on Thursday, Michelle Olsen, smiling from ear to ear, waited patiently for a more than 30-second ovation to subside.
Her speech got right to the point.
“Hi, I’m Michelle Olsen and …(pause for effect) … I’m the winner!” was met with a roomful of laughter and even more applause.
Olsen, a Larkin High School senior, was chosen from five finalists as the winner in the senior high school group. Her prizes were significant — a full-tuition scholarship from Judson University and Elgin Community College.
She will compete in a statewide competition with other local club winners.
“It feels completely unreal,” she said after the celebration at the Elgin clubhouse. “I’m still baffled by the fact that I won. It’s amazing.”
Cathy Russell, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin, said the awards ceremony is her favorite night of the year.
“I always walk away from that feeling so inspired by what we’re able to accomplish at the club and what we mean to people’s lives,” she said.
The award celebrates teens whose club experience has empowered them to find their voice and achieve success through after-school experiences at the club. Twelve teens competed, and winners were selected in three categories: middle school, junior high school and senior high school.
Zaniya Wright, a seventh grader at Teft Middle School, was named the middle school winner. Abigail Dunn, a sophomore at Larkin, took home the junior high school award.
The competition was held last week in front of a panel of seven judges. Each of the 12 kids competing was required to give a three-minute speech as part of the competition.
“They all get really nervous, and there was a lot of emotion that night,” Russell said. “I think one of the most touching things was the way the kids supported each other and the compassion that they showed one another throughout the competition.”
“The connection that the kids make with each other is such a beautiful thing.”