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Greenwich Teen Defies Odds to Become Youth Leader

GREENWICH, Conn. – Greenwich’s Denise Madinabeitia may be 17, but she is not your typical teenager. Denise graduated early from high school and now holds down three jobs to help her family while saving for college.

But Denise has been selected to compete with the Boys & Girls Club for the title of state Youth of the Year and a $1,000 college scholarship, which she could use to help finance her dream of studying marine biology.

“It’s amazing to see the transformation in Denise after just two years,” said Melissa Hawkins, her mentor and athletic coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, where Denise works in the after-school program. “She is an impressive, independent and strong young lady, and I look forward to seeing what she can accomplish in the next four years. We are all very proud of her.”

Madinabeitia, who struggled in school and is the youngest of five in a single-parent household, has overcome some challenging obstacles. She credits her involvement at the Boys & Girls Club.

“It started as required community service hours for a civic class, but then I started coming here more often and got very close to my mentors,” she says. “It became a place I could escape to if I had a problem with my mom. My mom expects me to be an angel, but Melissa understands it doesn’t have to be like that.”

At the club, Madinabeitia says younger kids seek her out for advice. “Every time I’m here, two girls come running up to me to talk or spend time with me,” she says. “I’m close with them.”

Last summer, Madinabeitia helped redecorate the teen room at the club, which was worn out and rarely used. “It made a change. Last year I barely saw any teens, but every day I see more and more, which is great.”

Madinabeitia, Youth of the Year at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, is among hundreds across the country recognized for her character, leadership skills and willingness to give back to the community. Being named Youth of the Year is the highest honor a Boys & Girls Club member can receive. “The club has really made me an independent woman,” she says.

Madinabeitia says she keeps busy “all of the time.” She also serves as president of the Cardinal Keystone Club and has served on the Northeast State Keystone Conference steering committee. She also works at Darlene’s Heavenly Desires Ice Cream shop in Old Greenwich and Versailles Restaurant on Greenwich Avenue.

She hopes to attend Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla., where marine life will be right outside her door. “The only problem is being away from my family,” she says.

If Madinabeitia wins at the state competition, she will compete for the title of Northeast Region Youth of the Year and an additional $10,000 scholarship. Five regional winners will advance to Washington, D.C., in September to compete for the title of Boys & Girls Club of America's National Youth of the Year. The winner will receive an additional scholarship of up to $50,000.

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