Jefferson City student named Missouri Junior Youth of Year

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A Jefferson City student has been named Missouri’s Junior Youth of the Year.

The Missouri Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs announced Melani Morris’ win at its annual luncheon April 12.

“I’m really proud of myself,” Morris said. “This has become such a great deal to me, and I am very honored to be named Junior Youth of the Year.”

Her parents and twin sister also expressed how proud they were of her when they received the news, she said.

Junior Youth of the Year is administered on a statewide level and is open to students ages 9-13 who excel academically and give back to their community, said Wade Middaugh, chief executive officer at the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City. Each club picks a candidate after an internal competition to attend the statewide competition at the Capitol each year, Middaugh said.

The Youth of the Year competition, open to those 14 and older, is judged on a national level by the Boys & Girls Club of America and is the group’s “premier leadership program” for youths across the U.S.

It was a long journey for the seventh-grader at Lewis and Clark Middle School to get the junior award. She competed against seven other local students at the Jefferson City-level competition before winning against competitors from across Missouri, he said.

Morris joined the competition partly because her twin sister joined as well.

“I was like, ‘Oh, so we’re doing that now?'” she said.

Winning such a competition has always been a goal of hers, too.

“Winning an achievement while I’m still in my teenage, adolescent years, it really has been something younger me would have definitely been proud of because I can say I did something with my life when I was 13 years old,” she said.

The local club chose Morris to be its candidate because of her grades, her involvement with and commitment to her studies and school community, along with “a stellar speech and essay,” Middaugh said.

Morris is a member of her school’s National Junior Honors Society, the secretary of the student council, plays double bass in the school’s orchestra and does cheerleading as well. She plans to play volleyball next year and run for her high school’s student council, she added.

As a judge at the internal competition, Middaugh said Morris’ speech stood out because she talked about how the club allowed her to be her true self and hang out with friends from different schools. Her speech also showed her to be a leader at the Boys & Girls Club.

“We’re very proud of her, we compete every year, but she’s the first time we have our Junior Youth of the Year candidate here from Jefferson City win that statewide award,” he said.

The club is arranging for a reception and parade to celebrate Morris’ win, Middaugh said. He hoped they would happen in the next two weeks.

“We want to make sure all of our kids get to congratulate Melani,” he said.

Josh Cobb/News Tribune. The winner of the 2023 Missouri Junior Youth of the Year competition, Malani Morris, talks about why she entered the competition. The Junior Youth of the Year award is given by the Boys and Girls Clubs to a Missouri teenager who displays excellence in their academic, family, and community life. According to Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City Chief Executive Officer Wade Middaugh, Malani is the first student in Jefferson City to win the statewide award.


Josh Cobb/News Tribune. Malani Morris was selected as this year’s Missouri Junior Youth of The Year. Malani Morris talks about why she joined the competition, and how she plans to help her community in the future.

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