The finalists for the Youth of the Year award organized by the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP) received an unexpected gift Wednesday night when one of the judges, well-known for his performance on the basketball court, offered to pay their first year of college tuition.
East Palo Alto Academy senior Alysia Demery, 17, was selected as the winner, receiving a $1,000 scholarship funded by BGCP in addition to becoming the Peninsula representative at the next round of the annual contest. Yet all four finalists had a reason to celebrate after Golden State Warriors star forward Kevin Durant surprised the crowd during the award presentation by offering to pay for all four finalists' first year of college.
The audience erupted in applause and the four student finalists embraced one another in tears on stage. The three other Youth of the Year contenders, whose speeches moved the audience to tears, were Joselin Quinteros, a senior at Everest Public High School in Redwood City; Dezmond "Dez" Frazier, a senior at Sequoia High School in Redwood City; and Magali Pineda, also a senior at Everest.
All four finalists shared their personal stories of resilience in front of the nearly 500 people who gathered for the announcement at the organization's East Palo Alto location.
"I didn't think I had a home and yet the BGCP felt like a home more than anywhere else," Demery said during her speech.
This year's judges were Durant, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's education chief Jim Shelton, journalist and educator Esther Wojcicki and Rich Kleiman, a partner at Durant Company, a firm started by Kevin Durant that invests in tech companies.
Demery was honored for her achievements while overcoming struggles with homelessness and poverty, according to the organization. There were days when her only meal was the daily dinner served at the club. Despite her hardships, Demery has earned a 3.7 GPA, founded a Black Student Union and a critical feminists club at her school, served as captain of her basketball team and was elected president of the club's leadership council. Her dream is to be the first in her family to graduate college and become a musician.
To be considered for Youth of the Year, the students submitted transcripts and letters of recommendation, and wrote essays about their challenges, goals and achievements. Most have already been accepted to colleges or universities and others are waiting to hear back.
"I feel like even if I wasn't picked, I would feel like I had won a prize," Demery said of Durant's announcement. "My family, we are in no type of financial position to have even paid for a month of college, so just to know that next year I can just work hard and not have to worry about my mom being stressed out or my dad being stressed out is more than enough."
In 2015, Durant founded the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation (KDCF) whose mission is to enrich the lives of at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds through educational, athletic and social programs. The donation from KDCF, according to Kleiman, was not previously planned, and halfway through the judging Durant said he wanted everyone to win.
"I feel like sometimes people need a head start," Durant told the Palo Alto Weekly after the announcement. "In the moment it felt like a good thing to do."
The event was hosted by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Lisette Derouaux and included an introduction by 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. This year, the event raised $2 million, a $1.2 million increase from last year's event.
The nonprofit serves 2,500 low-income K-12th grade students at 12 locations in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City. The youth receive year-round academics, enrichment, mentoring, career pathways and support getting to and through college. The organization also partners with local school districts to provide extended learning time instruction for students.