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The Chaffee County Boys & Girls Clubs held their 2023 Youth of the Year Awards Dinner Thursday evening April 6 at the Silver Cliff Ranch in Chalk Creek Canyon, naming Irene Alvarez as the 2023 Chaffee County Youth of the Year. She will go on to compete at the state level next month.

Featured image: Irene Alvarez is the 2023 Chaffee County Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year, pictured here with Boys & Girls Clubs Executive Director Brian Beaulieu. Photo by Jan Wondra.

Petite and softspoken, but amazingly resilient, Irene Alvarez has weathered a lot in her few years, and credits her experience at the Boys & Girls Clubs for her ability to accept others.

“Growing up in my small mountain town I spent most of my time watching others, observing. Most of the people in my town are white and don’t speak Spanish. My parents were both immigrants and my Dad was deported twice. The second time he was targeted for being different, for simply being Hispanic,” she said in a quiet but strong voice.” I was in the sixth grade when he was sent back to Mexico for the last time. For a while, it made me question and even reject who I was.”

Alvarez has been a member of the Chaffee Boys & Girls Club in Salida for 10 years. She said during that time she’s seen shy kids come to the club who don’t speak English, who don’t know where they fit, and who need support. “I see them and I want to help them because we help ourselves by helping others.”

She reflected back a few years, on a group of kids that were causing havoc at the club and recalled one boy, in particular, causing trouble who she said she just knew needed support. After he became hysterical, she said she didn’t know what to say, but “I simply sat down next to him on the stairs. I was quiet. First, he told me to get lost … but I stayed by him and stayed quiet. I felt like his ally just sitting beside him. Eventually, he looked at me and knew I was there for him.”

That student, Holden Berggren, went on to be a 2023 Youth of the Month this past year at the Salida Boys & Girls Club.

Irene Alvarez is the 2023 Chaffee County Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year. Photo by Jan Wondra.

Alvarez has worked at a coffee shop since she was 13. Last year she was asked to become one of the students trained to help guide other kids. She teaches art, and she does many other volunteer things such as translating for those who don’t speak English, or sitting down in silence, or quietly talking with kids “who just need someone to show compassion.”

Alvarez thanked the staff and the audience of community supporters for believing in kids like herself.

She commented that “if someone tells you something over and over again, you start to believe it. Club members have always believed in me and now I believe in myself. I am somebody… I’m an artist, a Boys & Girls Club member, and a leader.”

In total, 25 Boys & Girls Club students were honored, including the 2023 Middle School Youth of the Year:

Buena Vista   Ashlynne Goodwin

Salida              Ela Melia

Also recognized were the 2023 Youth of the Month Honorees:

Buena Vista: Landon Labounta, Ermuun Uranzorig, Max Poyce, Aiden Juarez, Dexter Whitmore, Clay Jirka, Rhylee Argys, Hailey Hampa, Maggie Kraynaa, Bianca Garcia and Kymbrey Schulze.

Salida: Corven Pearson, Evenlee Garcia-Butler, Santos Evangelista, Holden Berggren, Gianna Depetro, Korah Slaughenhaupt, Kira Cadogan, Kali Keast, Ruby Kaisner, Alise Bauman, and Mackenzie Wilson.

Editor’s note: Readers can go to the right-hand column of Ark Valley Voice and click the icon to read this article or any Ark Valley Voice story in Spanish.