Sandusky teen is named BGCNEO’s Youth of the Year

Jayde Gowitzka,18, a senior at Sandusky High School and a six-year member of Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio’s Sandusky Teen Center, has been named the BGCNEO 2024 Youth of the Year.

The honor was announced at an event Tuesday at the teen center.

Runner-up was Airyonah Tomlinson, 16, a junior at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron and a two-year member of the Steve Wise Club, where she is also a junior staff member.

Jayde, who joined the Club after moving to Sandusky from Bellevue, is a four-year high school varsity swimmer who captured state titles in the girls para division 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke events at the recent state swim meet. She has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects her ability to use and control the muscles on the right side of her body. She started swimming at age 7.

At the teen center, Jayde is president of Keystone Club, a leadership group, and part of the SMART Girls healthy lifestyles initiative. Teen Center Director Allysa Powell said Jayde “has overcome many obstacles to get where she is today and has allowed nothing to stop her.”

In addition to holding down a job, Jayde volunteers at community, church and senior citizen events. One of her notable volunteer activities was applying makeup to cancer patients for an event called Confident Beauty.

At SHS, Jayde has been on the honor roll, student council member, the softball team and the swim team. School counselor Babe Sidoti-Palmer called her “a one-of-a-kind leader.” After high school, Jayde plans to attend the University of Akron and study psychology.

Jayde, who receives a $5,000 scholarship for winning, moves on to state competition in Columbus April 17-18.

“It is great to win, but it is even greater to inspire people,” Jayde said.

Airyonah, who has a passion for art and plans to study graphic design in college. is the recipient of a $3,000 scholarship.

A panel of judges evaluated the Club, community service and academic records of the candidates as well as their essays. The finalists were also interviewed by the panel.

The Youth of the Year competition is one of the Club’s signature programs and is open to all members ages 14-18 who meet academic standards and are involved in community and Club activities.

Through the Youth of the Year program, young people showcase their talents and achievements, share their hopes and dreams, and work toward a bright and positive future. Candidates emerge through year-round recognition programs in their local Clubs, progressing through state and regional events, culminating in a weeklong celebration in Washington, D.C., where one is named the National Youth of the Year – the highest honor bestowed upon a Club member.

Boys & Girls Clubs provide safe, fun places for kids ages 6-18 after school. Clubs focus on healthy lifestyles, academic success and character development. BGCNEO, which was formed by the 2019 merger of Clubs in Cleveland, Akron, Lorain County and Sandusky, now has 49 locations in six counties.