Youth of the Year 2018

Kaycia Narine Named Boys & Girls Club Hartford Youth of the Year

By Matthew Ormseth

When Kaycia Narine first walked into a Boys & Girls Club five years ago, she was uneasy. There was a group of girls there who’d been teasing her at school about her accent, which gave away that she was not from Hartford or this country but Jamaica, from the parish of St. Catherine, which she’d left with her mother and two older sisters just one year earlier.

But in time, the Boys & Girls Clubs in Hartford, and the Asylum Hill club in particular, would become another home for Narine, and Narine one of its leaders.

Narine, now 16, has been named the Hartford Boys & Girls Clubs’ Youth of the Year, the one member out of 4,400 card-carrying kids in the city chosen by the club’s board as best exemplifying its tenets of leadership, academic rigor and community service.

“To be a 10th-grader, as poised as she is — I’m proud of her,” said Sam Gray, president and CEO of the Hartford Boys and Girls Clubs. “I look at Kaycia as one of my own adopted kids. I’ve got three sons, and she’s the daughter I never had.”

Narine, a sophomore at CREC Academy of Science and Innovation, volunteers at the Asylum Hill club every weekday. Once school is let out, she takes a bus from the New Britain campus to the Sigourney Street club, a ride that takes about a half-hour. “Those are some horrible minutes,” she said.

At the club, Narine and a few other kids use a hot plate to fry up bacon cheeseburgers, fries and plain bacon — “everybody loves bacon by itself,” she said. They sell the bacon to other club members to fund the Keystone Club, of which Narine is president. The Keystone Club is a leadership development group at the Asylum Hill unit, and proceeds from the bacon cheeseburgers and fries will help send the group to this year’s national convention in
Atlanta.

Narine is one of about 300 kids to visit the Asylum Hill unit each day, Gray said, and one of about 1,300 to pass through the three Hartford clubs daily. “We’re where the kids need us the most,” he said. “We’re their second home.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs’ predecessor, the Dashaway Club for Boys, was founded in Hartford 158 years ago. Today, there are more than 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs facilities nationwide; in Hartford, the city where it all began, there are three clubs: the Asylum Hill building, a club at Trinity College and another on Flatbush Avenue.

Narine lives in the North End with her mother and two sisters. Her father remains in St. Catherine, along with four of her siblings.

Last summer, Narine was a marketing intern for Aetna, where she helped organize community events sponsored by the healthcare giant, including a tennis clinic put on with the Hartford Yard Goats. She landed the internship after spending hours in the Asylum Hill club’s college and career center, preparing a resume and practicing for her interview.

Though Narine wants to go to college, with an eye toward studying social work, she’s keeping her options open. She met with a U.S. Army Reserves recruiter last week; her older sister went into the Air Force, and she knows the military offers stability and a chance at an education along the way. If she goes into the reserves, she can stay close to Hartford. Though it doesn’t yet feel like home— that is a term still reserved for St. Catherine, back in Jamaica
— it is where Narine’s mother is, and where she needs to be.

“I feel my mom’s going to need me,” she said. “I feel when my mom gets old, it’s going to be my responsibility to take care of her.’’

But sometimes she’ll indulge in a daydream — enrolling at UCLA, in California, a place she has never been but knows she will love.

“Every kid who comes through this organization is going to leave with a plan,” Gray said. “A college or university is ideal, but we realize it’s not the right fit for every kid. For some of them, it’s a trade school or the military. Every kid is different. But every kid is going to have a plan for the future.”

For Narine, though, the next step is still two years away. In the meantime, there are internships to secure, Keystone conventions to attend and hundreds more hours to be spent in the teen center, with the video games and ping pong table and karaoke machine. When they refurnished the room last fall, Narine was allowed to choose the color. She chose turquoise and yellow. And when she’s gone — wherever she’s gone to — turquoise and yellow it will remain, the mark of a girl who changed the Sigourney Street club, and let it
change her.

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