Anyone who thinks teens are only good for goofing off in front of the TV or ignoring their parents when asked to take out the trash has not met Tucson’s Tiffany Wojtak and T.J. Quijada.
Wojtak, 16, and Quijada, 18, are in the running for the top honors bestowed annually by the Boys & Girls Clubs – Arizona State Youth of the Year.
That means they do a heck of a lot more than goof off in front of the boob tube.
The two will join seven other teens from across the state at Tuesday’s ninth annual Arizona Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs Legislative Breakfast in Phoenix to see who nabs the top honor.
The Tucson teens have long been involved with the club – Quijada couldn’t wait for his seventh birthday so he could join – and have given back everything they’ve gotten from the club.
Wojtak, who lives with her dad, sister and two brothers on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, is not planning to give back some of the things she’s found during the club’s Rillito clean-up projects.
“Car pieces, bottles of urine,” she said. “There’s some pretty crazy stuff down there.”
Other efforts the Palo Verde High School junior has organized include the annual AIDS walk and any project that helps bring awareness to breast cancer.
“It’s a really big issue for me,” Wojtak said. Her mom died of the disease last year.
Getting through her mother’s death was made a shade easier by the club.
“They just kept me smiling, making me laugh,” she said.
“It’s a great way to help people, socialize and plan events.”
It’s also a great place to learn, especially the top two lessons Wojtak has walked away with.
“Work with what you have,” she said was the first lesson.
The second was: “There is always somebody worse off than you.”
Quijada, too, has learned much from the club, which is a draw for his family.
His two older sisters were nominated for state Youth of the Year when they were teens active in the club. His younger sister is a club member.
“I’ve learned to always be willing to serve,” said Quijada, a Desert View High School senior who plans to join the U.S. Navy. “Community service, giving back to the community is important.”
His favorite place to embark on such service was at a 2008 national conference, where he was among15 Boys & Girls Clubs members from across the country who ran the event.
“One workshop was for changing adults’ perspectives on teens,” he said, “getting rid of the stereotypes that teens are up to no good or having nothing to do but start trouble.”
Since Quijada joined the club more than a decade ago, he’s not had time to start trouble. He has had time to grow into the type of mentor he used to look up to.
“I am so excited to be the role model for the kids that used to be me,” he said. He also enjoys being the kids’ spokesman, representing them at conferences and lectures.
“This is my extended family,” he said of other club members, advisers and especially the kids who look up to him.
“When I was their age, the club was my life.”