GRAND PRAIRIE (CBSDFW.COM) – Thousands of high school students across North Texas are preparing to graduate this month.
Among them is a teenager from Grand Prairie, who immigrated to the United States from Kenya when she was only 2-years-old.
The Boys & Girls Club in Grand Prairie gave one college-bound senior the confidence to soar.
On a recent morning, Joan Mwangangi sits at a table at the club, flipping through some of her favorite childhood photos.
“This one is from Kindergarten graduation. Now it’s like full circle,” she says with a smile.
Like many high school seniors on the eve of graduation, Joan is full of reflection.
“I was born in Kenya – in Mombasa,” Joan says.
She came to the United States as a toddler with her parents. Opportunity took the family from New York to Texas, where they started a new life in Grand Prairie.
“One thing I did like is that people were really friendly here,” she recalls.
In the 5th grade, her mother enrolled her in the Boys & Girls Club in Grand Prairie, for after-school care. Her mother works as a licensed vocational nurse, and her father is a truck driver. Joan’s younger brother is also a member of the afterschool program.
At the club, Joan found a mentor in Julie Mitchell.
“She’s a special young lady. She always has been since she’s been here and she’s very much a leader,” said Mitchell, who is the branch director for the Boys & Girls Club of Grand Prairie.
Julie recalls a childlike confidence she first saw in Joan when she met her seven years ago. A confidence that began to waiver in Joan’s high school years.
“All that stress kept on piling and piling and piling. I never had time for just me, and so I just wanted to escape all the negativity and find a different place. I thought the way was through suicide,” Joan says, of the difficult time.
She says Julie not only encouraged her, but helped her restore her confidence in herself.
“I told her you already have greatness on you. Just hang in there and if it’s something that you need, just let me know,” Mitchell says.
She encouraged Joan to apply for the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year program, which develops leadership abilities in young people.
The competition included an interview and a three minute speech in front of a crowd, focusing on how the Boys & Girls Club has impacted her life.
“She has a powerful voice. Her messages have a tendency of drawing you in,” explained Julie.
Joan soared in the competition, taking the top spot in the Greater Dallas area and then in Austin, at the state-wide level.
June 3rd through 5th, Joan will compete in a regional competition among youth from seven states and the military branch of the Boys & Girls Club.
She’s already earned $9,000 in scholarship money, for college in the fall.
Joan plans to attend the University of Mary Hardin Baylor, where she’ll study nursing and communications.
Another milestone for a remarkable young woman on the path to a bright future.
“I’m so excited,” Joan says. “You’re gonna do just fine. Just keep doing like always have been, running your course,” adds Julie, with an encouraging hug.