CARY, N.C. – Next month, 17-year-old Xavier Del Rosario will deliver a speech about struggle and triumph.
He knows more than most about both sides of that equation, having been raised by a single mom, along with his four siblings.
“I’ll talk about struggles in my family, school, neighborhood and moving from Puerto Rico,” says the senior at Cary High School. “And about how the Boys & Girls Clubs was able to guide me in the right direction.”
Having been named North Carolina’s Youth of the Year by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Del Rosario received a $6,000 scholarship and will travel to Atlanta in June to compete in the Southeast Regional competition, where he stands to win a $10,000 scholarship.
Funded by the Readers Digest Foundation, the competition honors Boys & Girls Clubs members across the U.S. who excel academically and exhibit service to their clubs, families and communities.
“Xavier has truly achieved in the face of adversity and is a champion of the Boys & Girls Clubs,” says Ashlea Hitchcock, director of the Washington Elementary Boys & Girls Club that Del Rosario attends. “He embodies the mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs and continues to give back to the community that supports him.”
About three years ago, Del Rosario was introduced to Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County by friends.
“During the summer in my neighborhood, I’d play basketball and all my friends would leave to head over to the Boys & Girls Club,” he says. “One day I decided to check it out.”
Now he’s there every day after school from 3:30 to 8 p.m., serves as a paid junior staffer and is president of the chapter’s Keystone Club, which focuses on community service and develops teens’ leadership skills.
“I enjoy going somewhere I’m comfortable and not stressed to do anything,” says Del Rosario. “I’m able to help the kids out with their homework and do my best to help somebody else. Being with children gives me the opportunity to do that.”
And on the Saturdays he doesn’t have a basketball game, he volunteers to help out with community-service events organized by the Keystone Club.
Those have included hosting basketball tournaments, starting a recycling program at the club, performing a skit about the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, conducting trash pick-ups and helping out at an organization that assists homeless families.
Currently, the club is planning a “fun day” for the Boys & Girls Club at Fort Bragg, an event that will help meet the nonprofit’s national goal of supporting military families.
Giving back to the community has given Del Rosario something as well.
“It definitely opened my eyes,” he says. “I realized that my situation is never as bad as some others. I was grateful to be able to help others and to make a difference and see how thankful they were.”
Raised in the U.S., Del Rosario and his family moved to Puerto Rico for about year and a half before settling in Raleigh.
While he could understand Spanish, he could not speak, read or write the language, a challenge he worked hard to overcome.
But the study habits and work ethic he developed in Puerto Rico served him well back in North Carolina, where he finished his 10th grade year with straight A’s and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Keeping his grades up – while working, volunteering and playing basketball – is important to Del Rosario because he sees himself as a role model not only for his siblings but also for the kids at the Boys & Girls Club.
“I came out of a bad neighborhood with a single mom and lots of brothers and sisters,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of the things they’re dealing with. So I can say, ‘If I can make it, I know you guys can do more.'”
And this fall, Del Rosario will be attending the University of North Carolina Charlotte, where he plans to major in athletic training.
He already has contacted the local Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte, where he hopes to continue his involvement.
“I want to stay in the loop,” he says. “Even as an adult I want to get actively involved with community-service groups. It’s something that will be with me for a while.”