Growing up in a struggling community with limited family resources, Jocelyn Woods found stability at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley. The organization would become a home away from home, sheltering her on her journey from the Bay Area to USC.
“I didn’t always have a stable background, but all of the staff and mentors there have always been there for me when I didn’t have family members to do the same,” said Woods, now a first-year student at USC Annenberg. “Knowing that the club was more than a club, that all the people loved and supported me, was reassuring.”
In September, Woods was named National Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in a ceremony held in Washington D.C. The coveted honor recognizes Club members who have demonstrated outstanding leadership skills and dedication to community service and academic excellence. The Youth of the Year program is presented by The Walt Disney Company with support from Toyota, with additional partners University of Phoenix and Taco Bell Foundation. Woods, who was one of six finalists after she was named Pacific Region Youth of the Year, will receive $145,000 in academic scholarships, a trip to Walt Disney World and a brand new Toyota.
A Club member since the age of five, Woods took full advantage of the resources the organization offered, including programs that built leadership skills and, most importantly for Woods' future academic plans, exposure to tech and writing.
“[The Club] gave me opportunities that I otherwise would not have had,” said Woods. “When I was ten, I was first introduced to code." One of the assignments was to build a game centered around a particular social issue. The experience gave her the confidence to pursue a field that Wood's describes as unpopular among people “that look like me or come from the same background as I did.”
Woods has brought that passion and confidence to USC Annenberg, where she plans to study how journalism intersects with technology. She chose to attend USC not only because it already “felt like family” when she first visited the campus, but because she also recognizes the advantages offered by its location in Southern California.
“Being in L.A. you're around the business, and you have so many opportunities here,” Woods said. Annenberg has been at the forefront of VR journalism due in part to the efforts of Professor Robert Hernandez, who work has already had an influence on Woods. “He's been very inspiring because it's two of my worlds colliding,” she said.
As she wraps up her first semester at USC, Woods looks forward to taking full advantage of what the school has to offer, just as she did at the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“I’m trying to fully immerse myself in all the opportunities that I have here,” Woods said. “There’s so much, but it's a good problem to have. I want to study abroad soon, I just want to get the full experience.”
Woods hopes that her story so far can become an inspiration for Club members who may be facing the same challenges she did growing up.
“The Clubs are predominantly in areas of lower income and lot of people of color,” she said, adding that Club members should keep in mind that “the environment you grow up in isn't always the place that you stay.”
“When I was growing up in the club I was inspired by the National Youth of the Year, and they pushed me to do and see more. So I hope I can do that for others and be that inspiration.”