Evelyn Ortiz, 18, a senior at Oyster Bay High School, was named the 2021 New York State Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year on May 24. Ortiz was selected after three years of volunteering and working at the Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich Bahnik Youth Center, and dedicating herself to improving the club.
She was named Youth of the Year at the Oyster Bay club on Feb. 5. Since then, Ortiz and her mentor, Jean Marie Weiner, have prepared for the state Youth of the Year competition, at which local Youth of the Year winners vied for the state title.
“When we do identify somebody as Youth of the Year, there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into the process to get them to the next level for the state competition,” explained Weiner, program director at the Oyster Bay-East Norwich club. “Essays, background information, letters of recommendation, transcripts, preparation for the questions, preparation for the speeches.”
At the state competition, Ortiz spoke about her experiences in Oyster Bay and the impact they had on her life, as well as what she planned to do with her platform to make a difference in the future.
“I had to prepare a three-minute speech, and then I was asked different interview questions that I had [studied] beforehand,” said Ortiz, who lives in Oyster Bay. “It’s basically like telling my life story to the judges.”
“This was her year, and she did outstanding,” Weiner said. “She really connected with the judges . . . I think that they really found her engaging. They found her story compelling and they saw something in her. You could just tell during the interview process that they really, really liked her.”
Ortiz received a $10,000 scholarship, and will compete against other nearby state winners for Northeastern Youth of the Year, which will be held virtually next Tuesday. The winner will compete for the national Youth of the Year title in Washington, D.C., in September.
When Ortiz began volunteering at the Oyster Bay-East Norwich club at age 15, she helped first- and second-graders with their homework. At 16 she was offered a paid position as a program assistant and then asked to work at the control desk, where she signed members in, helped families with the registration process, arranging for their children’s pickup times, and input club information into the computer system.
Despite her own inspiration to make the club the best it could be, Ortiz said that Weiner was responsible for her success. It was Weiner who offered constant support and encouragement, she said.
“Jean Marie is like my ‘work mom’ and I can go to her for anything,” Ortiz said. “She is definitely one of the people who I am very thankful for, and am so happy that she was there for me throughout this whole process. This fall, Ortiz will attend Adelphi University, where she plans to study childhood/elementary education. It has been her dream since kindergarten, she said, to become a teacher. She was inspired by her own teachers in the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District.
At Oyster Bay High, Ortiz is involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. She is a member of the Breaking Boarders club, the publicity officer for the yearbook and a member of the Chamber Singers.
Meagan Dissinger, the school’s director of choirs, said that Ortiz helps those around her focus on empathy and understanding, and that she is devoted to making positive change.
“This award could not have been bestowed upon a more deserving student,” Dissinger said. “As her choir teacher at Oyster Bay High School, I have had the pleasure of knowing Evelyn’s talents in music, [but] I am especially impressed with her dedication to her peers and her community. I am lucky to have been her teacher.”