Carries Message Of Hope From Camden
Inquirer Staff Writer
Mahan knows the look. It
is an all-too-common response Mahan gets from strangers when she proudly
discloses her hometown: Camden.
just gave that look," she recalled.
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.
tell people that good things come out of Camden," said Mahan, 17, who
plans to attend Temple University in the fall.
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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,"