Trei Dudley, 18, of Lawrence, was named National Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Club of America today.
She was recognized during a Congressional breakfast this morning in Washington and received the award from actor Denzel Washington. She also met Olympian Michael Phelps, singer Ashanti and President Barack Obama. Along with her title, she received $61,000 in scholarships and a new car.
“Hands down, this is the single happiest moment of my life,” Dudley said in a news release. “Like the other Youth of the Year finalists, my story could have turned out very different without the support, mentorship and safety of my Boys and Girls Club. I will forever treasure this experience and commit to representing club members and the nation’s youth well.”
The award celebrates youth who have overcome enormous odds and demonstrated exceptional character and accomplishments. There are 4,000 Boys and Girls Clubs nationwide that serve 4 million children and teens. The Lawrence club serves more than 1,200 youths with after-school and summer programming.
Dudley has been involved with Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence since she was in kindergarten.
She said her mother, Cathy Brittain, worked hard to raise her and her three siblings on her own, and there were times when life wasn’t easy. Dudley said the staff at Boys and Girls Club helped pull her through those times and she considered them a second family.
“They took me under their wing, and I knew that I could always count on them. They were a big support system,” she said.
Brittain said the Boys and Girls Club provided a place where her daughter could just be a kid and not have to worry about the difficulties at home. Brittain said she worked two jobs to help make ends meet, and Dudley, the second-oldest child, helped take care of household chores and her siblings.
“She could play hopscotch and jump rope and not worry about the stresses of home or the fact that there might not be some great times,” Brittain said. “At the Boys and Girls Club, she could be whoever she wanted to be.”
When Dudley was in junior high school, she was asked to help mentor some elementary school girls, and that became a turning point for Dudley.
“It just got in her blood and that’s what she wanted to do is just be an inspiration to others, the way others had been an inspiration to her,” Brittain said. “She wanted to make a difference in a child’s life, even if it was just one.”
Erika Zimmerman, director of development for the Lawrence club, described Dudley as a caring individual who took time during a pep rally last week at Pinckney School to visit with parents who were having difficulties with their children.
“It speaks to her character, just how much she loves working with youth and how good she is at it,” Zimmerman said. “Trei has such a big heart.”
Dudley is the first Kansas resident to win the national award. She graduated from Free State High School in May and is a freshman at the University of Arkansas, where she is studying business.
The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence plans to have a reception for her at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at its East Heights location, 1430 Haskell Ave. The club also plans to send a busload of people to the Kansas City airport to greet her before the reception. Her flight is scheduled to arrive at noon.