By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — The latest Youth of the Year from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes demonstrates the usual requirements for the organization’s annual honor, including leadership in and service to the club, his school and the community.
But the biggest reason that club officials urged Vergennes Union High School junior and city resident John Charles “J.C.” Dugan to go through the demanding essay and interview process for the honor goes under the official heading of “Moral Character.”
Club Executive Director Mike Reiderer said Dugan, a solid student and two-sport varsity athlete this school year, is a perfect role model for how members should treat one another at their School Street clubhouse.
“That’s the reason we as a staff have pushed J.C. to participate the past two years,” Reiderer said. “(We see) the way he supports new members coming in. He’s everybody’s big brother. He’s wonderful ... One of our loftiest goals is to make the club a comfortable place for everybody to be, and to be able to have a diverse makeup of kids. We’re here for everybody, and J.C. really helps promote that. He’s an athlete, yet he hangs out with all different groups here.”
Dugan said that attitude comes naturally. He started attending the club in 2000, when his older brother Adam helped out during after-school hours and it operated in the National Guard Armory on Monkton Road.
Dugan remembers how he was treated in his early days there.
“All the older kids always made me feel very welcomed here, and that was part of the reason why I kept coming back. It didn’t feel like a hostile environment ever. It always felt like a nice place to come,” he said. “And some of the kids that come here are not the most social people, and having people be there for me when I was younger to help me be more social, I think it’s nice to repay the favor and help other kids feel comfortable here.”
Despite Dugan’s qualifications — his service work includes working on Green Up Day, helping run a Kite Fly Day and many other family-friendly events for the club, and he is the club’s leadership group president, helping to plan club events and fund-raising activities — Reiderer said there were three other strong candidates for the local honor.
The decision was made by four judges, club board members Diane Lanpher and Bill Benton and community representatives Doug Hawley and Carol Schreiber. In prevailing, Reiderer said Dugan showed another asset as well as his empathy for his peers.
“They said, as always, it was a very difficult decision, and each of our candidates had a different set of skills,” he said. “What really set J.C. apart was his presentation. He was obviously very comfortable in the interview. He could present himself very well. Public speaking was going to be a clear strength for him.”
Dugan and the other seven winners from the other Boys & Girls’ Clubs in Vermont were honored in Montpelier on April 8, and unlike the past two years, the Vergennes representative did not claim the state youth title. (See related story.) That distinction went to Nick Cain of the Brattleboro club, an environmental activist who had just won a scholarship to Cooper Union Art College in New York City.
Dugan said he got to know Cain during the tour of the Statehouse and Capital Plaza Hotel banquet, and said Cain merited the statewide recognition.
“He was a really nice kid,” he said. “I felt he was deserving.”
Because he didn’t win the state honor, Dugan, who is trying to make up his mind whether to study business or elementary education in college, can try again next year.
“I plan on running again,” he said.
Reiderer is happy to hear that. All the participants in the program learn basic life skills, he said, such as learning to fill out applications, go through interviews and write reflective essays.
They also typically gain in self-esteem and confidence, he said, as he believes was the case with Dugan. Last year, Reiderer said Dugan started the process, but decided to step away. This year, Reiderer said he followed through and reaped the reward.
“For him to be able to make that step and say, ‘I am worth it, and I’m willing to put my self out there,’ ... was something I really saw this year that I thought was great,” Reiderer said.
“Last year I kind of got cold feet and backed out,” he said. “I found it much easier to sit down and write out what I needed to this time. Last year I sat down with it and started writing and either didn’t feel I could do it or didn’t feel I was worthy of the title.”
When pressed, Dugan admitted he was not confident a year ago, something that changed this time around. Now, he has a different attitude about the process.
“It was definitely a really good experience, and I definitely won’t forget it ever,” he said. “I think it just showed me that if I end up going for something, that it’s definitely attainable.”
VERGENNES — The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes recently named Vergennes Union High School junior J.C. Dugan as its Youth of the Year.
The club honors a member every year for leadership, community service and contributions to the organization. The winner is chosen by a panel of local community members, who interview candidates from the club. The candidates also must submit essays on their career goals, challenges, home and school lives, service and “moral character.”
Locals winners compete against Youths of the Year from the other seven Boys and Girls Clubs in Vermont, and the state winners go on to regional and national competitions. Three Vergennes winners have also won the state competition. Competitors may enter more than once, but once they have won the state title, they are no longer eligible.
The complete list of Vergennes-area club winners is:
2008: Monique Simpson (state winner).
2007: Belinda Hall (state winner).
2006: Belinda Hall.
2005: Curtis Bessette.
2004: Sara Partington.
2003: Sara Donnelly (state winner).
2002: Elizabeth Hall.
2001: Rachel Cobb.
— Andy Kirkaldy