SALEM - For 16-year-old Max Wildfleuer, the second time was a charm.
Wildfleuer, this year's Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem's Youth of the Year and a Salem High School junior, was a finalist in last year's competition.
During a celebratory dinner at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem Tuesday evening, staff, club and community members paused from their busy lives to honor four high-achieving teens, recognizing each for their unique community contributions.
The highest honor a club member can receive, the Youth of the Year award promotes community involvement, academics, strong moral character and poise. Each month the local children's organization names a Youth of the Month. Of those dozen local young people, club officials narrowed their search down to four finalists.
Chief Professional Officer Michael Centor said the Youth of the Year event is "by far one of the best parts of his job."
"We had four amazing candidates this year, four amazing kids," he said.
Wildfleuer, a member of his school's varsity soccer team, has been a club member for the past decade and currently works as a youth counselor at the club. This year is his second year in the club's Keystone program, which promotes community service. The polite young man who hopes to one day become a chef and own his own restaurant didn't hesitate when asked why he keeps coming back to the Boys & Girls Club.
"The staff members are just so great," Wildfleuer said. "They're always here when you need help."
Finalist Alyssa St. Cyr, 17, a senior at Salem High School, said coming to the Boys & Girls Club "feels like coming home to family."
A club member since the third grade, St. Cyr is also involved in the club's Keystone project. She's particularly proud of an upcoming program for homelessness awareness, where she and other club members will camp out in the cold outside a local shopping center. St. Cyr said her dream is to become a teacher and help struggling children.
Finalist Kristen Foster, 17, a Salem High School junior, has been a club member for the past several years. The past three of those years have been spent volunteering as a homework tutor for her younger peers.
"I love working with the little kids. They're so amazing, so creative," said Foster, who dreams of becoming an early childhood educator someday.
Finalist Cecilia Souza, 14, is an eighth-grader at Woodbury Middle School. She's been a club member for the past 11 years and has volunteered in the art room for the past three years. Last summer she worked as a junior camp counselor.
Souza also volunteers with the local Special Olympics team and her ultimate goal is to become a special educator. "I have a passion," she said.
Centor said, "Each one of these kids is such an asset to the club and such a terrific role model."
Each candidate submitted a series of personal essays and met with a diverse group of community members who served as judges.
As this year's Youth of the Year, Wildfleuer will receive a $1,000 college scholarship donated by Steve and Diane Hatem as well as assorted prizes from area merchants. He'll also have the chance to compete in the state Youth of the Year competition later this year and potentially go on to compete at the national firstname.lastname@example.org