Hudson grad nominated for Boys and Girls Clubs of MetroWest Youth of the Year
By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Hudson – When Hudson resident TJ Hunter first entered the doors of the Hudson Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Clubs of MetroWest six years ago, being nominated for Youth of the Year was the furthest thing from his mind. He was 12 years old, and had come to the club at the urging of a friend to play basketball, one of his favorite ways to have fun.
His first impression was a favorable one.
“It was a good place to come; a positive place to chill out, do homework, stay out of trouble,” he recalled.
Hunter found the staff to be attentive to the kids, and good role models.
“There were people to look up to, [to whom] you could vent [about problems],” he said. “There is someone always here to have your back. The Boys and Girls Club is a big organization of support.”
Hunter transitioned from “one of the kids” at the club to staff member two years ago, during his sophomore year of high school.
“It was my first job,” he said. “I started working three days a week, supervising the younger kids.”
Hunter found that his opinion of the “younger kids” changed with his new role.
“I used to think of them as ‘annoying,'” he admitted with a smile. “Now I find them inspiring.”
He notes that, even if he has had a bad day, the innocence of the children and their positive energy often puts him in a better mood.
And others view Hunter differently as well. Whereas once he “looked up” to certain staff members at the club, now kids look up to him.
“If someone seems to be having trouble fitting in [with a particular group of kids], I can help mentor that child, find other friends for them to hang out with,” Hunter said. “It's a good feeling to be that role model.”
He used his influence as a role model recently, with a first-grade club member with autism.
“He was a huge inspiration [to me],” Hunter noted. “He was always so happy, despite his disability.”
But some of the children, not understanding the first grader's developmental challenges, teased or excluded the young boy from sports or games. Hunter befriended the child and helped smooth his way to friendship and acceptance.
Hunter acknowledges that there are club members who are dealing with difficult issues.
“For me, I come just to have fun; it's a positive place,” he said.
But, when he attended the Boys and Girls Club State Youth of the Year Event in Worcester in May, he heard troubling stories from some of the nominees.
“We heard about bad situations,” he recalled, expressing gratitude that he “has his life on track, and has good parents.”
Five regional winners were chosen from 41 Boys and Girls Clubs in Massachusetts to vie for the title of National Youth of the Year. And, although he wasn’t selected as a finalist, Hunter is pleased to have been nominated by his own club.
“It felt good that people recognize my hard work,” he said.
Hunter recently graduated from Hudson High School and is headed to Framingham State University in the fall. He still hasn’t decided what he’d like to do – firefighter and teacher are on the list – but, whatever it is, he hopes it will be a career where people will continue to look up to him.
Mike Rugg, Teen Program director at the Hudson Clubhouse, has been working with him for the past three or four years, and is confident that Hunter will have a bright future.
“It has been a pleasure to watch him grow up,” Rugg said, “and so great to watch him become the young man that he is.”
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