Kyla Whiton had been preparing for a year. In 2018, she journeyed to Seattle with other members from Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County to listen to the stories of Youth of the Year candidates from across Washington state. The candidates competed for a scholarship award and the title of Washington State Youth of the Year through an essay writing, interview, and speech competition. Inspired by the speeches she heard, Kyla returned to the Anacortes Club and immediately began writing her speech with a passion to advocate for kids with disabilities—kids just like her.
Motivated by the importance of her platform, Kyla persevered through hours of essay writing, mock interviews, and speech practice to become her Club’s candidate. After enduring a major surgery in December, she traveled to Ellensburg, WA in January with a walker and climbed up and down icy hills on a Youth of the Year retreat in order to further improve her abilities along with other candidates from Skagit, Thurston, and Benton and Franklin counties. Then, she triumphed in an extremely competitive county competition to earn the right to travel to Seattle in a bid to become Washington State Youth of the Year, coming full circle from her trip the year before.
“Kids with disabilities are more willing to try things because we know not everything in the world is going to be easy—we’re fearless,” said Kyla in her speech. Her fearlessness led her to the state competition where she competed alongside 13 other youth. During the three day event, the candidates toured the capitol building, met with the governor and state legislators in the governor’s mansion, and heard from a lobbyist on the importance of grit. They also toured Columbia Bank headquarters, traveled to Seattle, and became inspired by noted public speaker Paul Shoemaker at the Hive Lab at KCTS. Finally, all the candidates performed their speeches and interviewed with a panel of judges comprised of CEO’s, community leaders, and Boys & Girls Clubs elite. During this daunting process, the youth encouraged each other. They formed bonds incredibly quickly during the trip and were the first ones to congratulate the new Washington State Youth of the Year, Addison Holland from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Olympic Peninsula.
“Every single one of those kids deserved to win, but Kyla is truly extraordinary,” said Kyla’s mentor, Nathan Allen, Director of STEM Initiatives for Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County. After the announcement of the winner, Kyla did not need consoling. On the drive back to Skagit County, she was already planning on how to use her newly formed connections to improve the Clubs and advocate for kids with disabilities in Washington State. She currently plans to contact her state representatives, meet with a local CEO, and talk with senior Club leadership about how to best support youth with disabilities in Skagit County. Next year, she has been accepted into Skagit Valley College with multiple scholarships where she will study business and further increase her ability to lead others. “She may not have won,” says Nathan, “but she is unstoppable, inspiring, and represents the very best of her generation.”
“By sharing my story, I hope to encourage organizations to become more accessible,” says Kyla. Even though she no longer needs to practice her public speaking skills to win a competition, she still is passionate about reaching her community. If you would like to learn more about Kyla’s story or about the work Boys & Girls Clubs does to support local youth, please contact your local Club. Also, keep your eyes and ears open, because Kyla is just getting started.