Northwestern Mutual Foundation Youth of the Year Winner
At a very young age, Tommy Walls understood too well what it meant to survive. The inner strength he gained as a result of his childhood made him a leader and contributed to him being named the 2010 Northwestern Mutual Foundation Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM).
Being named Youth of the Year is the highest honor a Boys & Girls Club member can receive. The title recognizes outstanding contributions to a member’s family, school, community and Boys & Girls Club, as well as personal challenges and obstacles overcome. Walls is among hundreds of local Youth of the Year winners across the country recognized by Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) for his sound character, leadership skills and willingness to give back to the community.
Locally, Youth of the Year is sponsored by Northwestern Mutual Foundation and recognizes eight Club members, ranging in age from 14 to 18 years, who are honored for their leadership, service and academic standing. All of the 2010 honorees, including Tommy, will be featured at BGCGM’s Salute to Youth MVP Dinner and Awards Ceremony in May 2010.
“Tommy serves as a wonderful example of how a child can not only overcome significant challenges but also excel as a student, leader and role model,” said Deanna Tillisch, vice president of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. “We are honored to partner with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee to recognize outstanding youth like Tommy, and to help the community secure future generations.”
“Tommy is a young man very worthy of praise,” says Jim Clark, president & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. “In the Clubs, he found a place where he could flourish as a leader. He has earned the respect of both his peers and Club staff. We greatly appreciate Northwestern Mutual Foundation’s support of our Youth of the Year Program and our remarkable Club members like Tommy.”
Northwestern Mutual Foundation Youth of the Year’s Early Life Marked with Challenges
Born in Detroit, Mich., Tommy faced dire circumstances as an infant. His mother was mentally disabled, HIV positive and addicted to drugs. Although his father also struggled with drug abuse and violence, he provided a home for Tommy, until he was sentenced to prison for 30 years. In order to survive, Tommy knew he had to become a leader in his family.
For the next five years, Tommy floated between his mother’s home and the homes of countless relatives, friends and the occasional teacher. During especially bad times, he made sure his mother remembered to take her medicine. He also had to remind her to the get lights turned back on and bring home food to eat. In addition to managing the household, Tommy tried to earn the confidence of his teachers and school staff, despite a poor attendance record and lack of parental support. Tommy had one objective: to get out of his living situation. But he didn’t know how to do it.
At a family reunion nearly four years ago, Tommy met some family from Milwaukee . At the age of 14 and with the approval of his mother, Tommy left everyone and everything he knew in Detroit, and traveled to Milwaukee to live with one of his adult cousins. Soon, his life began to change. Now in a stable home environment, he organized family game night and Sunday dinners — things he had always wanted to do with a family, but previously never had the opportunity.
Similarly, Tommy also had very clear ideas about the type of student he wanted to be. He immersed himself in his classes, sports (a varsity basketball player for Marshall High School ) and extra-curricular activities, including serving as a peer mediator and a member of the Student Governance Board. Currently, Tommy holds a 3.7 GPA.
A Boys & Girls Club member for four years, Tommy is known for his enthusiasm, optimism and desire to help his adopted home of Milwaukee. As a Club member, he’s been heavily involved with community- oriented programs such as Peers with Impact and the Summer of Peace Project. In addition, Tommy is part of the Clubs’ Stein Scholars College Prepatory Program – set up by former Board of Trustees Chair, businessman and philanthropist Marty Stein. He wants to attend either Marquette University or Beloit College and pursue a master’s degree in social welfare and justice, with a minor in communication. His career goal is to become a guardian ad litem – a social worker/lawyer who investigates a child’s family situation and makes a recommendation about best course of action for him or her.
Tommy credits the guardian ad litem who worked hard on his behalf to make sure he was safe and in a good environment.
This spring, Tommy will compete against other Boys & Girls Club members from throughout the state for the Wisconsin Youth of the Year title and a $1,000 scholarship from Reader’s Digest, sponsors of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Youth of the Year Competition. If Tommy wins at the state level, he will go on to compete for the title of Midwest Region Youth of the Year and an additional $10,000 scholarship. The five regional winners will advance to Washington , D.C., in September to compete for the title of National Youth of the Year. The National Youth of the Year receives an additional $15,000 college scholarship and is installed by President Barack Obama in an Oval Office ceremony. Since 1967, BGCA has bestowed the title of National Youth of the Year to 63 teens.