The Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich honored its 2022 Champion of Youth, Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich VP and program director Don Palmer on Wednesday.
They also announced and honored the 2022 Youth of the Year, Paige Pray, a Greenwich High School senior.
In a ceremony in the field house hundreds gathered including board members, staff, town officials, supporters and former Youth of the Year winners.
The Club’s director Cristina Vittoria said over 3,000 youths walk through the Club’s doors every year and over 300 attend after school and enrichment programs on a daily basis. Last summer they served over 660 youth at their camps.
“The needs for our programs and services are as important and relevant today as it was when we began 110 years ago,” Vittoria continued, adding that generous community supporters stepped up during the pandemic with financial support to make possible the club’s programs, summer camps and in-person programming. “It takes a significant amount of financial support to operate the club as we continue to offer yearly memberships for only $75 per year.”
Vittoria congratulated Don Palmer, who by all accounts has made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of youth during his 30 years at the club.
Ms Vittoria described Palmer as an inspiration and mentor to kids, staff and the community.
“Your remarkable passion and unparalleled commitment to our kids is what makes you the perfect choice for this year’s Champion of Youth,” she said, going on to read the words of Palmer’s third grade teacher at Sunnyside School in Shelton.
“‘Donny boy was a fine boy’,” she said. “‘He grew into a fine young man, great teenager and a wonderful husband to Laura and fantastic father to Patrick and Brendon, and in all these years that have passed since third grade we have kept in touch….One of my fondest memories is the family jumping out of line in the St. Patrick’s parade in Greenwich to come and hug me. There is an old saying that friends become our chosen family. The Palmers are part of our chosen family, and always will be.'”
Former Boys & Girls Club Director Bob DeAngelo talked about Palmer’s 30 years of making magical moments for the kids at the club.
“You’re a huge source of pride to anybody that’s ever crossed your path,” DeAngelo said. “The club logo – the hands clasped – what we call ‘the knuckles’ – that means we hold kids really close. We champion them, teach them things, we love them, and help them make big strides in life.”
“You have two kids yourself, but I’d say that you’re a father figure to so many thousands of kids over the years. That’s a huge family that you have,” DeAngelo added. “Knuckles for life.”
The 2010 Youth of the Year Camryn Ferrara, who is an Athletic Coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club and Torch Club advisor, introduced the Junior Youth of the Year, Ryder King, an eighth grader at Western Middle School.
“Ryder is the kind of Club kid we want here. He participates in everything. Everything: Barracuda swim team, finance champions, tutor, homework help, Torch Club, Passport to Manhood, Stem to Stern (rowing with Greenwich Crew), athletics, and rugby.”
“Whatever we ask Ryder to do he does it. He’s always looking to help the kids and help the Club,” Ferrara said. “His future is so bright.”
Ryder, who said he would always be “a club kid,” talked about what made the club great.
“We are a nation that is torn apart by chasms of race, religion, politics and economics. These chasms bring with them anger, discomfort and arguments, and they flow into the media, hang in the air and spill onto the dinner table. The club throws all these preconceptions away,” he said.
The 12 finalists for Youth of the Year were Katie Coyle, Sofia Devito, Isaan Dumeny, Serena Fakhoury, Ava Galley, Raquel Garcia, Jonathan Maldonado, Saskia Phillips, Paige Pray, Jesse Sanchez, Starla Tejada and Ashley Torres-Brown.
Event co-chair, Sally Lawrence and Club Teen Coordinator Ryan Accurso introduced Youth of the Year, Paige Pray, a Greenwich High School senior who has been a member of the club since she was six. She has participated in over 15 club programs. She is a member of the National Honor Society and received the DAR Good Citizen Award. She plans to attend Quinnipiac University to study Criminal Justice.
Accurso explained that per the national Youth of the Year initiative, the winner in Greenwich would go on to the state pool of candidates, and after that, the possibility for national recognition out of 4,000 clubs in the nation.
Paige recalled coming straight to the club after school since first grade. She listed the constants in her life as her home, her family and the Boys and Girls Club. She thanked the Club for the support after her mother was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition.
“When I returned to the club, my old friends and the staff welcomed me with open arms. Soon I was my old self again, smiling and laughing,” she said.
“Keystone gave me the opportunity to feel connected to our community,” she said. “With every Keystone meeting I attended, I was encouraged to do even better in school and continue to give back to the club and my community the same way my club and my community helped me.”
“I now work at the Boys & Girls Club, which I feel is the ultimate way to give back,” she continued. “I’m grateful for the help I received from others, and the chance to enable kids to have the same help I had growing up, so that they too can see their own success through the impact of the Boys & Girls Club.”