Johnston County Early College Academy student James Daniels has been named the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year for the Johnston-Wayne County area and has placed in the top five for the same award for North Carolina.
Youth of the Year is the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s premier recognition program. The organization says club members who earn the title embody values of leadership service, academic excellence, and they exemplify the critical impact that Boys & Girls Clubs have on the lives of young people.
“If you want to do something great, then go do something great,” said 17-year-old Daniels. “Never think that you can’t.”
Daniels, the son of Michael Daniels and Cathy Daniels of Selma, competed against 27 other youth who also won the title for their district at the state competition in Asheville on April 1. Participating youth were judged on a prepared speech, interview skills, and leadership qualities.
“I practiced my speech and interview skills,” said Daniels. “I had my dad practice with me. He’s the most intimidating guy I’ve ever met, so that helped.”
Daniels said his speech emphasized three things: a healthy lifestyle, leadership, and club involvement.
“I really wanted to emphasize those things,” said Daniels. “I wanted to explain not only how I embody those things, but how I’ll continue to use them to help the Boys & Girls Club.”
Daniels is a fourth-year senior at the Johnston County Early College Academy. There he’s working on his high school diploma and an associate degree.
Daniels said what he’s learned while studying at JCECA helped his volunteer efforts at the Boys & Girls Club.
“They push you to another level at ECA,” said Daniels. “The biggest thing here is learning work ethic and study habits.”
Daniels said the early college made him more focused on his education and the future.
“I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know the path,” said Daniels. “I came to early college, and they helped me find my educational path immensely.”
Daniels has big plans for himself, most of which involve furthering his education. He wants to finish college, get his four-year degree, and later go to graduate school. He plans to study psychiatry and ultimately open his own practice.
Daniels wants to enjoy life, but also work hard. He said one of the biggest lessons he has learned about preparing for the future came from his mother.
“My mom always tells me you’re never promised tomorrow. You can do whatever it is that you really want to do if you’re willing to work for it,” said Daniels. “So don’t put something off. If you want to do something, make it happen.”
Not only is Daniels focused on his education, but he is active in his church, a private tutor, a piano teacher, president of the Interact Club, and working on his Eagle Scout. One of the things he is most passionate about is volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club, an organization he has been involved with for nearly 10 years.
“I started off as any other Selma kid going to the Boys & Girls Club,” said Daniels.
Daniels volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club at least once a week, where he tutors and builds relationships with younger children, who he says are just like him.
“I was where they are,” said Daniels. “I work with all of them, and I love every single one of them.”
Daniels is calling for more people to get involved and volunteer in their communities. He said doing so makes all the difference.
“You can see the results in the kids I work with,” said Daniels. “Every kid that comes out of the Boys & Girls Club is not the same kid that went in.”
Daniels credits both JCECA and the Boys & Club for molding him into the person he is today.
“Realistically, I shouldn’t be where I am today,” said Daniels. “But no one is exempt from doing great things and being successful.”