MOUNT VERNON — Paula Banda asked an audience Wednesday evening at Eaglemont Golf Course to imagine themselves as swashbucklers, preparing to walk a plank.

The plank is just one inch wide, and underneath swims sharks, eels, and deadly jelly fish — a symbol of the anxieties that plague us.

“All around you are pirates laughing at you and making faces,” said the 17-year-old Sedro-Woolley High School junior. “These are the bullies and haters trying to hold you down.”

Comparing herself to a vulnerable swashbuckler, Banda explained how the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County’s Sedro-Woolley Club has changed her, giving her the skills she needs not only to outsmart the laughing pirates, but how to deal with the foes beneath the plank as well.

“I’ll be the swashbuckler who won the fight against chaos and negativity,” she said. “I’ll be the captain of my own ship.”

Banda was announced as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County’s 2020 Youth of the Year — her second time winning the honor.

“It means being a role model and spreading my brand of wanting everyone to be included,” Banda said after receiving the honor.

Each of the county’s clubs generally selects one finalist to be considered for the Youth of the Year honor.

Each finalist must then write an essay, take part in an interview, and write and deliver a speech about their life and how the Boys & Girls Clubs have impacted them.

“Youth of the Year is important not only to be able to honor a club member for their hard work but it’s an opportunity to showcase the work that goes on every day in our clubs,” Executive Director Ron McHenry said. “(Paula’s) going to be a strong representative for Skagit County.”

The countywide Youth of the Year competes at the state level, with the winner of that competition moving on to the national level.

As he had when Banda won the award in 2017, her father Ezequiel Banda, glowed with pride as his daughter accepted the award.

The Sedro-Woolley Boys & Girls Club has helped each of his three daughters grow, he said.

“I’m so proud of her,” Ezequiel Banda said of his oldest daughter. “She’s a really hard worker and she wants to do the best. She’s been working so hard.”

As the Youth of the Year winner, Paula Banda was awarded the Skagit Valley College Foundation Cardinal Award for Club Excellence, worth the cost of a two-year full-ride scholarship to the college.

“The college’s goals of access, achievement and community are grounded in equity,” said Anne Clark, Skagit Valley College Foundation executive director. “Just like the Boys & Girls Club, we strive to meet our students where they are and provide resources to help them realize their intrinsic worth, and chart a course to empower them as they move forward in life.”

The Cardinal Award for Excellence was established in 2018.

“As a club organization, we work so hard to remove barriers for kids’ success,” McHenry said. “Partnering with the college and them providing this in a collaborative spirit, it further eliminates barriers for once they’re out of our daily nest. So to know that they’re going to this positive, supportive environment once they’re done with us means a lot. We can trust that they’re getting a solid education, and that there’s support and resources available to them.”

For Banda, the award will put her one step closer to her ultimate goal of attending Harvard Law School.

“I want to try to get the best education I can to get myself out there to help others,” she said. “I want other people to feel comfortable sharing their own stories.”

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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