Tacoma teen mentor set to compete for top national honor

Tacoma teen mentor set to compete for top national honor »Play Video
Tae McKenzie

TACOMA, Wash. -- Next month, an outstanding Tacoma teen will travel to our nation's capital to compete for Boys and Girls Club's National Youth of the Year.

The Lincoln High School graduate recently won the regional title.

Around the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club gymnasium, 18-year-old Tae McKenzie is a legend in eyes of the club's youngest members who look up to her.

To those who've seen her blossom at club in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood, she's a success. Over the summer, McKenzie was named the recipient of the 2014 Pacific Region Youth of the Year.

"Everyone I went to school with came to the Boys and Girls Club, so I started going to the Boys and Girls Club. And it's kind of like launched everything from there," McKenzie said.

She's transitioned from member to mentor.

Raised by a single mother and helping take care of her younger siblings, the teen shares a similar background with some of the youngsters she mentors.

And she's excelled in the classroom. With her recent awards as part of the Boys and Girls Club program, she's received over $18,000 in scholarship money.

"One of my favorite quotes is,'I alone cannot change the world, but I alone, can change the world of one person,' " McKenzie said.

Her passions have led to co-founding a girl's mentoring program.

"Like I've said in my speech, I'm the first young lady in my family to graduate high school without getting pregnant or dropping out," she said.

In mid-September, Tae will embark on her next challenge, the National Boys and Girls Club competition in D.C. While there, she'll meet President Barack Obama.

"Tae is a remarkable young woman and I think she really represents what is possible for young people, in spite of all the challenges they face in today's world," said Mark Starnes, Boys & Girls Club South Puget Sound President & CEO.

Starnes says since 2000, only two other students from the Pacific Northwest have reached her level of the competition.

"All it takes is ambition, persistence and determination and knowing that you really can't do it all by yourself, you know," she said. "You need the Boys and Girls Club. You need support. Someone there to push you and keep you going."

Tae was nominated by her local club for the youth of the year award. She went through an extensive selections process on the local, state and regional levels, beating out students from several states.

In the fall, she'll attend the University of Washington.