Last Friday, McAllen ISD alum Alejandra Llanos earned the National Youth of the Year with the Boys & Girls Cl
ub of America during a ceremony in New York City. Now representing over three million kids and teens, Llanos is determined to advocate for mental health and education.
“This role presents me with an opportunity to not only represent kids and teens across the nation but to exemplify what’s possible when young people are given access to safe spaces, caring mentors, and life-enhancing opportunities to grow our passions,” said Llanos in an official Boys & Girls Clubs of America press release. “I know I am capable of anything that lies ahead, and I am determined to make a difference in my community and beyond.”
The University of Texas at Austin student has been part of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen since she was 7 years old, joining during summer camp and creating bonds within her community while her mother worked a year-round job.
“It turned out to be a second home,” she said. “The people there were always so supportive and caring of me.”
At age 13, she became a volunteer at the summer camp she grew up in. She served on the student council, class treasurer, and student body president at Nikki Rowe High School, where she managed budgets and polished her leadership skills.
Through the Club, Llanos advocated at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on March 21, speaking to lawmakers about lobbying to utilize club funding to pay for educational programs.
“That was one of the first public advocacy works that I’ve done in my life, and honestly, it is a thing that sparked my passion for public policy,” said Llanos. “In order for changes to be made, we’re able to be the ones that go up front and demand for the change to be made.”
After her final year of volunteering this summer and graduating high school, Llanos looks forward to continuing her work with the Boys & Girls Club through advocacy.
“I’m only really familiar with the community back at home,” said Llanos. “It’s going to be a lot of work for me to be familiar with the entire nation’s youth, and it’s something I’m looking forward to.”
Llanos was in disbelief at hearing her name announced in front of Girls & Boys Club staff, alumni, partners, and celebrity supporters.
The 18-year-old said her nomination and victory were a year in the making; having to draft essays, make public speeches, and go through interviews by a panel of judges.
“It was hard at times,” said Llanos as she moved from local to regional, to state, and to nationals. “The competition does get a lot more difficult. The youth that you compete against — they’re a lot more passionate with what they do, they have strong initiatives — it gets really hard sometimes.”
However, having support from friends, family, and the McAllen Boys & Girls Club CEO Dalinda Alcantar helped Llanos remain grounded.
Through the Boys & Girls Club, Llanos became a social butterfly, reserved as she came from a single-parent home.
“I wasn’t exposed to any other relationships or interactions with other people, so when I entered the club, I was around kids all the time,” she said. “I was able to build relationships with them.”
Llanos even learned about advocacy and the power of public speaking.
“I’ve been able to become outspoken and showcase my voice,” she said.
As the Nikki Rowe High School alum takes a step into her new role, she looks forward to advocating for first-generation Mexican Americans like herself and backing policies on immigration.
“It’s an example to others in the community that they can do the same,” she said. “Seeing how I was able to continue as a representative, even after I’ve already out aged the junior section… it sets an example.”
That evening, Llanos did not only take home an award but a $50,000 scholarship, a Toyota Corolla, and a $5,000 Kohl’s gift card.
“We are very proud and excited for Alejandra,” said McAllen ISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Rosalba De Hoyos. “She is an outstanding role model for our students. She has shown that if you work hard, dedicate yourself, and are goal-oriented, you can accomplish amazing things.”