MARCIA MAHAN grew up in Camden NJ. Orphaned at 10, she was raised by her grandparents. She was a 2004 graduate of Creative Arts High School and president of the school's National Honor Society chapter. She also was the Camden Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, and won the New Jersey state title as well.

Philadelphia Inquirer -July 27, 2004
Marcia Mahan, 17, flanked by grandparents Kenneth and Dolores Mahan. The college-bound teen wants to spread the message that Camden and its youth deserve a chance: "I tell people that good things come out of Camden."

AKIRA SUWA / Inquirer


Philadelphia Inquirer -July 27, 2004

Teen Carries Message Of Hope From Camden
Inquirer Staff Writer

Marcia Mahan knows the look. It is an all-too-common response Mahan gets from strangers when she proudly discloses her hometown: Camden.

"They just gave that look," she recalled.

But Mahan hopes to change that as the New Jersey Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year and the unofficial ambassador for the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, located in the city's Parkside section. Wherever she goes, Mahan has a message to share about Camden and its youth: Both face insurmountable odds and deserve a chance.

"I tell people that good things come out of Camden," said Mahan, 17, who plans to attend Temple University in the fall.

An honor student who was orphaned when she was 10 years old, Mahan has become a role model for her peers. She has fed the homeless, organized a clothing drive for needy families, and raised money for breast cancer research.

"There were people who told me I was going to fail," she said in a recent interview. She wants Camden's youths "to find their place in life."

She will get another chance to share her story when she travels to New York City tomorrow to participate in a two-day competition to select a teen to represent the Northeast region in the next round of the Boys and Girls Club's Youth of the Year contest. The national winner will be decided next month in Washington. Participants will be interviewed by a five-member panel and judged in the categories of citizenship, morals, character, academics, and community and club involvement.

While admittedly nervous, Mahan said she planned to only use brief notes for her three-minute speech to the judges. "If you're not doing it from the heart, what good is it?" she said.

"Once she believes what she has to say is important, she can deliver," said Milford Liss, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, who will accompany her to New York. "She has skills kids her age just don't have."

When she was 10, her mother, Sharon, died from cardiac arrest at age 34, leaving Mahan an orphan. Her father was never involved in her life. She became a ward of the state, and her maternal grandparents agreed to raise her, although they thought they were too old. They have struggled to provide for Mahan on a fixed income. They also are raising a younger granddaughter.

"I did what I could," said Dolores Mahan, 74, who raised 15 children. "When I look at the outcome, it was well worth it. I'm very proud of her."

Marcia Mahan credits her grandmother with instilling in her a drive to succeed and help others. "What she can't give us in material things she makes up for with love," she said, choking back tears. She has used her youth title to advocate for the Boys and Girls Club. In June, she urged Trenton lawmakers to support more clubs in Camden. She received a proclamation and a standing ovation. State Assemblywoman Mary T. Previte (D., Camden) said her story moved lawmakers to tears. She described Mahan as "the best of the best flowering in Camden."

Mahan joined the Boys and Girls Club when she was a freshman, mainly as an outlet to avoid the streets. The club opened in 2001 and serves about 3,000 youths. Liss said Mahan thrived in the club, moving up the ranks over the years from a general member to become a paid counselor this year.

In May, she competed against three other Camden teenagers to become the club's Youth of the Year. Later that month, she was chosen from a field of 13 to land the state title. That netted her $15,000 in scholarships, and she could get $5,000 more if she advances this week.

"It's not even about me. It's about the little kids behind me," Mahan said. "I want them to not be afraid to be different."

On a hot afternoon last week, Mahan donned a bright orange bikini to accompany her young charges to swimming lessons at the club.

"She's, like, cool," said Nija Davis, 10. "She doesn't yell, and she's not mean. She's nice."

Mahan is a member of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Camden, where she participates in the street ministry, visiting people in the community unable to attend church service. She graduated last month from the Creative Arts High School, where she was a drama major and president of the National Honor Society.

"She's very motivated," said principal Davida L. Coe. "We're real proud of her."

In September, Mahan begins her quest to become the first in her family to graduate from college. She hopes to become a gynecologist/obstetrician.

"I want to come back and live in Camden. This is my home," Mahan said.