Of course, for the 14-year-old Comer, the club is the J.T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club in Marietta, where he has been so active in his school and community he now holds the crown of that location’s Youth of the Year.
“I never imagined myself being Youth of the Year, so it was pretty exciting when they told me I was going to do it, but I didn’t really realize how much work it was … more work than just getting the title,” said Comer, a freshman at Marietta High School.
Now tacked on to his already-full workload are bi-monthly speech practices in preparation for today’s Youth of the Year Award ceremony.
He and the 19 other Boys & Girls Club winners from surrounding clubs will convene today at 6 p.m. at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta. The theme of the evening will be “75 Years of Opening Doors to Great Futures” and will include a speech competition.
Memorizing a speech
“We have to write our own speech and memorize it,” said Comer about the 3-minute presentation required to participate in tonight’s event. At the ceremony, six contestants will have to recite their oratories on stage in front of the audience.
Comer is a solid candidate to win the Boys & Girls Clubs of metro Atlanta’s highest honor. A member of his club since first grade, he continuously shines among the 251 students enrolled, and has taken the title of no-less-significant Youth of the Month for several months throughout the year.
He is doing this amid more than just classes. In addition to going to the Club Monday through Friday and leading in its organizations like Keystone (as treasurer), Comer is swamped with responsibilities at school.
“Thursdays are the busiest days for me,” he said. Not only does he have his core classes and electives on these days, but afterwards he participates in show choir, a Keystone meeting, a volunteer commitment with sixth grade cheerleaders doing tumbling, stunts and dive practice.
When does the boy sleep?
Lots of support
in his corner
He said his family has been very supportive, and pushes him to be his best.
“They just kind of expect me to do the best that I can. If I come home with a grade that’s not what I know it could be, I already know I’m going to hear about it,” said Comer.
His community family, however, is rooting for him, too. Lauren Odom, the executive director of the J.T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club, has only known Comer one year, but says she is more excited than he is about his award.
“I will be there front and center, excited for Kaleb,” Odom said.
According to Odom, each high school-aged club in metro Atlanta has a representative in the competition. Each club also receives $500 in scholarship funds just for participating.
Odom also said the top Youth of the Year winners will also get scholarships if they go on to place. However, she has seen only one of her youth in the top three. Following the metro-wide competitions, winners battle in state, regional, and then progress to national levels before a nominee is officially crowned Mr. or Mrs. “Boys & Girls Clubs of America.”
The process usually takes about a year to complete. Right now, Comer does not even know what he will do if he wins the contest.
“All I know is whoever they call up (on stage), we’re going to have to give our speech,” said Comer.
But even if he does not make it on stage, the Comers have now had the opportunity to have two Youth of the Years in their family. Comer’s older brother, now a senior at Alabama A&M University, is a main reason for him remaining active at the club until graduation.
“He went through here and was Youth of the Year, too, and he got $5,000 worth of college money one year from the Boys & Girls Club,” said Comer.
Comer also wants to go to college and get his masters in sports science or management, and dreams of having his own team one day. This opportunity has already been beneficial for his public speaking, interviewing, and people skills. So, he does not have too much farther to go.
More than 800 attendees are expected to be present, including board members, politicians and donors, according to the press release.
“(It is) a great setup, a great experience for the kids,” said Odom. “It’s one of my favorite events.”
BGCMA will also be celebrating its 75th anniversary at the ceremony, but the finalists will be its main focus.
Comer’s recent exposure has not gone to his head. “He’s a typical teenager,” said Odom. It has, however, made an impact on J.T. Anderson’s other students.
“He (has been) coming back with different things and opportunities, and they were like, ‘Wait, why not me?’” said Odom. “So it’s like a motivation to push the others to do some things to get the exposure that Kaleb is getting.”
That is just the kind of effect a 14-year-old can have.