The Maui News
April 7, 2012
By LILA FUJIMOTO - Staff Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After becoming the first Paukukalo Boys & Girls Club member to win the Maui contest as top youth earlier this year, Baldwin High School junior Lopaka Mattos was named 2012 Youth of the Year representing the state in the Boys & Girls Club competition.
"I was excited," the 17-year-old Maui native said Friday, the day after Gov. Neil Abercrombie presented the award at a luncheon Thursday at the Plaza Club in Honolulu. "The experience was really cool."
Earlier Thursday, Mattos and Maui finalists Raquel Zane, Tiera Conley, Courtney Galarita and Leah Kinores were recognized at the state Legislature - with certificates of recognition on the Senate floor and in the House gallery.
"It's everybody's victory here," said Colin Hanlon, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui. "Lopaka's absolutely an inspiration to all the kids and all of the staff and quite a manifestation of the end product of what a Boys & Girls Club experience can be.
"Just his daily way that he carries himself is something that brings a lot of pride to all of us. He's just a great human being. Not just the organization, but the state of Hawaii will be well represented by him in the competition."
With the state award, Mattos received a $5,000 scholarship, on top of a $2,500 scholarship he received in February when he was selected as Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui.
He will travel to the Mainland for the first time to compete in a regional Youth of the Year competition in Orange County, Calif., in July.
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.
In his speech for the competition, Mattos described childhood memories including being shot at while in the back of a car as his biological parents fled from police. He imagined what it would be like to have a bed while he slept in a car, as his biological parents struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
His life began to change after his parents dropped him off at the Boys & Girls Club in Central Maui, where he got help with homework and participated in sports and other activities. It was there that Lopaka met Kawika Mattos, who was then the Central club director.
Lopaka and his younger brother were taken in as foster children, then adopted by Kawika and Ka'o Mattos six years ago, after the brothers' biological parents lost their parental rights.
Kawika Mattos is now director of the Paukukalo club where Lopaka is among 260 members from ages 6 to 17.
Last year, he did about 180 hours of volunteer work, including participating in community cleanups and helping build a house in Paukukalo through Habitat for Humanity.
Hanlon said he has seen the most growth in Lopaka's focus on his grades and education. A Junior ROTC member, Lopaka now has plans to attend the University of Hawaii Maui College and enlist in the Marine Corps special forces.
State senators from Maui commended Mattos for what he has achieved.
"I congratulate Lopaka for this wonderful accomplishment," said Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui and Upcountry, as well as Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. "He has impressed many throughout the Boys and Girls Club organization with his strong faith, sense of community and volunteerism."
Said Senate President Shan Tsutsui: "This is a well-deserved honor for Lopaka. He is an extraordinary young man who has been able to rise above many personal challenges." Sen. Roz Baker, who served as one of the judges of the state competition, said Mattos "will make us proud" as he continues on to the regional competition.
"At 17 years old, he has already demonstrated his perseverance against adversity, which makes this achievement even more gratifying," Baker said.
Mattos is the second state Youth of the Year winner from Maui, following Zachary Jarman of Makawao, who received the award in 2010.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.