More than 150 people attended the Great Futures dinner at the Boys & Girls Club of the Alma Area on Thursday to recognize the club’s 2018 youth of the year and support area children.
Ezekiel “Zeik” Gregory was recognized during the event as the club’s 2018 youth of the year. He is the son of Cheryl and Lee Gregory of Mountainburg.
As someone who rejected social pressures to play football in favor of pursuing a passion for music, Gregory spoke on how he has impacted - and been impacted by - the club.
Gregory started a band club for younger members of the club, and takes part in a club mentorship program.
“It’s amazing how even small things I do for these kids can make their whole day better,” Gregory said.
Gregory also spoke about his March trip to Little Rock for the state youth of the year competition, calling it an “amazing experience” that he “never expected” to happen to him.
A senior at Alma High School, Gregory was chosen as an Outstanding Musician in the school band from 2015-2018. He has received music-based scholarships for college at the University of Central Arkansas, where he plans to major in music.
Each of the four youth of the year finalists - Chandler Champion, Brandi Shearburn, Madison Holloway and Grace Murphy - also spoke briefly about their experiences and how they have been changed by their time with the club.
Champion is the son of Brandon and Becky Champion and plans to attend Arkansas Tech University-Ozark to study physical therapy.
Shearburn is the daughter of Heather and Nicholas Shearburn and plans to attend Petra Allied Health to study to be a veterinary assistant.
Holloway is the daughter of Regina and Glen Holloway and plans to attend Arkansas Tech University to study accounting.
Murphy is the daughter of Jesse and Sally Murphy and plans to attend Berkeley College to study international business.
A number of elected officials attended the event, including State Reps. Charlotte Douglas, Bruce Coleman, Charlene Fite and Bob Ballinger, Sen. Bryan King, and various county officials.
King presented all five youth of the year finalists with a coin from the state legislature and a state flag.
King, Douglas and Coleman also presented the club with a legislative citation that recognized the club for its accomplishments in serving more than 1,250 young people each year and its efforts in toward academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and citizenship of its members.
Elaina Damante, chief executive officer for the Boys & Girls Club of the Alma Area, accepted the citation. She also addressed the crowd to acknowledge how much the club has grown in recent years and to thank the community for its support.
“This club was built on the dreams and prayers of this community, and this club is successful because of those same dreams and prayers,” Damante said.
Damante also told the story of a father that recently approached her in the post office to thank her for the positive changes the club wrought in his son, who was 15 and troubled when he began to attend the club.
Because of the patience and caring of the staff, who helped him prepare for the ACT and signed him up to take the exam, he will now be the first in his family to graduate from high school and the first to be accepted to college, Damante said.
Stirred Catering and Coffee catered the event. Premier sponsors were the Greene Family and Foster Roofing.