Ruth Gathunguri, a junior at Free State High School, has been named the 2018 Boys and Girls Club Kansas Youth of the Year.
The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence announced the news Wednesday night following a ceremony in Topeka where Gathunguri was officially named winner of the annual competition. In her remarks Wednesday night, Gathunguri spoke of race, bullying and the harmful effects of body shaming.
After a painful experience with bullying on her swim team, Gathunguri started playing volleyball through her local Boys and Girls Club. There, Gathunguri had finally found a place where she belonged, the 17-year-old told the Journal-World.
“In elementary school, it was a place for me just to be myself and learn how to be a leader and embrace myself and my differences and become confident in who I was,” Gathunguri said of her beloved Boys and Girls Club.
As she entered middle school, Gathunguri began volunteering at the Lawrence club, working with kindergartners. She’s learned that great leaders must also be “great listeners,” a skill she’s employed as a mentor to younger kids who may be struggling with the same insecurities Gathunguri faced after being bullied as a little girl.
“They just want somebody to listen to them and tell them they’re smart, they’re beautiful, they can be who they want to be,” Gathunguri said.
Gathunguri has career aspirations in medicine and hopes to become a nurse practitioner, ideally working in family practice. She plans to attend Johnson County Community College before transferring to Pittsburg State University.
As Kansas Youth of the Year, the Lawrence teen will now represent Kansas at the southwest regional Youth of the Year ceremony June 14 in Dallas. She’s got plenty of work to do in preparation for the big competition, but Gathunguri said the opportunity to serve as a role model for her Boys and Girls Club kids makes it all worthwhile.
“I want to inspire all my kids, and being able to win (Wednesday) night was an opportunity for me to inspire them even more,” she said.