HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama has a new Youth of the Year to celebrate.

At a ceremony on Thursday, it announced Mariangely Ponce-Rivera as the winner for 2023.

The Youth of the Year Award was decided after the three finalists gave speeches at the ceremony.

The 2023 finalists were:

  • Phyllip Thomas
  • Mariangely Ponce-Rivera (winner)
  • Skylar Hurst

In total, there were seven candidates for the award. They all represented different Boys & Girls Club locations in North Alabama.

Other Youth of the Year candidates:

  • Temperance Ricks
  • Tykaria Potter
  • Destiny Bennett
  • Chastity Calhoun

A lot goes into the selection process for the award. Students need to have letters of support, perform well academically, write an essay, show community involvement and more.

Youth of the Year award winner Ponce-Rivera attends the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. She said through her studies she’s found an interest in biomedical engineering.

She said, “right now I’m thinking about doing biomedical engineering” in college. She said she is unsure where she wants to further her education at the moment, but is considering Auburn University.

The Youth of the Year Award comes with a $20,000 scholarship.

That scholarship prize is what made Ponce-Rivera pursue the award for the second year in a row. She was a runner-up at the 2022 award ceremony.

“I was very determined, I wanted to win, I wanted to earn this scholarship, and so I put a lot of hard work into it,” she said.

Ponce-Rivera said she was truly thankful to win the award and wants to be an inspiration to other young people.

“I want to show kids that no matter what age, what race, what color you are that you can really accomplish anything if you put your mind to it,” she said.

This year the Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama also awarded a Junior Youth of the Year.

That award went to eighth grader Marlee Tolliver from Scottsboro.

President of the Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama, Patrick Wynn, said he enjoys being able to work with young people and help guide them.

“We do a lot of great programs but this [Youth of the Year] is by far our favorite,” Wynn said.

“You know, everybody that you talk to at Boys & Girls Club they look forward to Youth of the Year because this is a culmination of the hard work that the staff has done to pour into these young people,” he said.

At the award ceremony, Wynn also announced 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton will be the guest speaker at BGCNAL’s Leaders & Legends event on July 13th, 2023 at the Von Braun Center (VBC).