VERGENNES — Fifteen-year-old Kira Johnson of Vergennes, having logged some 100 hours and been an almost constant presence at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes since grade school, was not a surprising selection for the club’s 2014 Youth of the Year.
When asked about her community service hours through the club, Johnson’s explanation was simple:
“I like to stay busy,” she said. “I can’t sit at home and do nothing.”
Johnson started going to the club when she was in second grade. For a self-described shy person, the club was a good place for her to go after school. She said the staff was friendly and she got to meet other kids while playing pool, going outside and doing her homework.
“It was something to do to get out of the house and help out in the community so it’s a good environment to live in,” she said.
Johnson gradually became active in some of the club’s community projects, including picking up trash with Green Up Day, scaring visitors at a Halloween haunted house and painting little kids’ faces at Vergennes Day, a task she found particularly challenging.
“I didn’t have much experience with that,” she said. “But they turned out OK.”
She also took on leadership roles in groups and when she moved to the teen center, she helped organize events, including a girls’ pajama party night, a family spaghetti dinner and other events that encouraged families to spend time together.
Billy Waller, director of teen activities at the Boys and Girls Club, has worked with Johnson for the past seven years. Waller said selecting Johnson from a pool of qualified members was a “no brainer.”
“Kira was the one that shone through,” he said. “There are some years we might have as many as five or six people who fulfill the requirements but Kira was the easy nominee this year.”
Of the 222 days the Vergennes club was open last year, Johnson was there for 214, an impressive feat Waller said, and a demonstration of her commitment — particularly with all of her other activities, including a hip hop dance class, cheerleading and a running club. She’s also building a boat with classmates in the Diversified Occupations program at the Hannaford Career Center, where she is a sophomore.
“She still finds time to fit us into her day,” said Waller. “Even if it’s only for an hour or two on the days that she has commitments. If she doesn’t have any commitments, she’s here for four hours a day.”
Johnson will compete against students from the five other Boys & Girls Clubs around the state on April 8 in Montpelier for the Vermont Youth of the Year title. The contestants will speak about their experiences at the club and its importance to them. The finalists will also give a speech at a dinner in front of family and representatives from the Statehouse.
Johnson said she intends to stay active in the club for as long as she can and she’s even got an idea for her next project: a community garden in Vergennes.
“The Boys & Girls Club has been part of my life, almost every day since the second grade,” she said in a draft of her speech. “It has been a place where I have met friends, developed confidence in myself, and have positive relationships with adults who care for me.”