Benjamin Cortez Jr., 14, a student at Hilo Intermediate School, was honored as the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island Youth of the Year at the club’s recent annual banquet at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel.
Club officials call Cortez “a natural born leader.” A club member for half of his young life, he considers service to his community an important aspect of that life. He battled leukemia in his early years and has been cancer-free for almost 10 years.
An only child, family plays a huge role in his life and he prides the strong bonds he has with his mother, Kim Cortez, and “Papa,” Bob Baker.
“Mom reminds me over and over again that I have been given a second chance at life, so whatever I decide to do in life, be the best that I can be,” said Cortez.
“I have been going to the Boys & Girls Club since I was 7. There are kids there who are going through adversity like me. Boys & Girls Club has a caring and friendly staff who don’t take us for granted. They take part in helping us by asking questions and allowing us to talk about our feelings, and you don’t have to keep it inside you,” he said. “They are molding us into becoming respectful and responsible adults.”
“The Youth of the Year program is B&GCBI’s premier youth recognition program for club members. All members can benefit from participation in this program, which promotes and celebrates service to club, community and family, academic performance, moral character, life goals and poise and public speaking ability,” said Executive Director Zavi Brees-Saunders.
The other two finalists for Youth of the Year were Hilo High School students Jenasay Namba and Tyler Nahinu. Two adult community members — Patsy Tamashiro and Ivan Nakano — also were honored for being instrumental in the club’s success with Big Island youth.