Mieasha Hicks was a shy, isolated 12-year-old when she started going to the East Toledo Boys and Girls Club.
Her father, who was 15 when she was born, had just died, and her mother had moved to Florida. She went to the Boys and Girls Club seeking companionship, but she found much more: confidence and opportunity.
Now Ms. Hicks, 18, is a role model for other youngsters at the center, and has a chance to become the national spokesperson for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
She will compete in September against four other regional finalists in Washington. If she wins, she will be named the national youth spokesperson and receive a $10,000 scholarship.
“We're thrilled. This is the most exciting thing that's happened to us in a long time,” said Kelly Duling, a director at the East Toledo club. “It couldn't happen to a nicer kid. Mieasha's strength and determination have carried her through.”
Ms. Hicks received $7,500 in scholarship money for winning the state and regional Boys and Girls Clubs contests. To compete, she wrote essays, gave brief speeches, and did interviews with panels of judges.
She said the scariest part of the contest so far was giving her three-minute speech at the state competition, held in Toledo in March.
“When I first got up I was really nervous, but I broke through a barrier when I was up there,” she said. “It got easier.”
On the trip to Washington, Ms. Hicks and the other contestants will be chauffeured to sightseeing spots by limousine, and may get a chance to meet President Bush. “They are going to be treated like royalty,” said Cathy Fynes, director of resource development for local Boys and Girls Clubs.
Ms. Hicks plans to use prize money from the competition to pay for room and board at Bowling Green State University, where she will start classes in the fall. The aspiring microbiology major has a full tuition scholarship for her first three years .
In addition to practicing her public speaking for the Boys and Girls Clubs contest, Ms. Hicks has spent time this summer perfecting her moves with the Sylvania Sparks, a competitive cheerleading team.
Along with her experiences at the East Toledo club, Ms. Hicks said cheerleading helped her become more outgoing. She cheered for Central Catholic High School and joined the Sparks about a year ago.
“Cheerleading kept me out of trouble,” Ms. Hicks said. “It's something I just love to do. If I had a problem, I would go to practice and all my worries would just go away.”
At the East Toledo club, Ms. Hicks cheers on a new generation of youngsters. She has worked as an attendant at the club for two years.
“The kids adore her. They look up to her,” Ms. Duling said. “She has a following of little girls that want to be Mieasha when they grow up.”
Ms. Hicks said many children walk into the center with bad attitudes, but even the toughest can change if they have the right guidance.
“They need someone who's been there. If you can tell them where you've been and where you are today, it really helps them,” she said.
Ms. Hicks attributes much of her own success to the support of her family. Because her parents were teenagers when she was born, she was raised by her grandmother, Ruby Butler, and two aunts, Sabrena Chatman and Sondra Hicks.
“Growing up was hard, because I was used to seeing everyone with their mothers and fathers. Then I started to realize how important my family is to me,” she said. “They're really proud of me now.”