Steven Zbignewich was asked in recent years to submit an essay to his Boys & Girls Club of Westminster leadership team, which was interested in putting up the New Windsor resident for Maryland Youth of the Year.
Znignewich said he didn’t feel ready. This year, things changed.
The sophomore at Westminster High School felt better about his academics and his ability to work through a learning disability. A 10-year member of Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, Zbignewich decided to follow through. And he made history in doing so ― the 16-year-old was recently named Maryland Youth of the Year by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the first in Westminster’s history.
“My mom burst out into tears, and I was just really happy,” Zbignewich said. “I didn’t really know what to think — it was a little overwhelming. I didn’t really know what was going to happen after that.”
Zbignewich is set to receive $2,500 toward a college scholarship, and he’s competing for a regional honor in the fall. To get there, he had to impress a panel of judges at the local level. Erin Bishop, marketing director of the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, said each candidate crafts an essay and endures an interview process in an effort to portray the club’s ideals and objectives.
After being named Westminster’s Youth of the Year, Zbignewich competed at the Maryland level against a handful of other state nominees. Bishop said more essays were required, and each candidate had to put together a memorized speech that lasted three minutes. A 12-minute interview in front of the state judges was also part of the process, Bishop said.
“The speech was actually really fun. I didn’t struggle with that at all,” Zbignewich said. “I memorized it by the weekend before the state competition, which was pretty easy for me. I messed up once, but it’s fine, I think. I did great still.”
Westminster was lined up to host the Maryland Youth of the Year contest before the coronavirus pandemic put a kink in the plans. But Zbignewich did enough to earn the distinction of his club’s first state recipient.
“We are feeling very happy, and feeling like we have arrived,” Bishop said about Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, which moved from its prior location on Union Street to 71 E. Main St. in 2018.
The Westminster location started in 2003, and its Community Center was completed three years later, according to its website. The club was incorporated in 2011 as a nonprofit organization and two years after that earned an official charter in the Boys & Girls Club of America.
The Union Street site soon became too small, with children and their families on a waiting list to join, so the club went from 2,500 square feet to nearly 20,000 at its Main Street outpost. And last year the club broke ground on a new gymnasium that will provide opportunities for sports programs.
The club also added two locations at North Carroll and Northwest middle schools, according to the site.
Zbignewich has been coming to the Westminster club since before he was a teenager, and Bishop said watching him grow and excel has been a pleasure. Amy Laugelli, one of the judges for the local competition, said via email that Zbignewich was able to communicate “in a very genuine way.”
Zbignewich expressed concern during his interviews for those dealing with the coronavirus, Laugelli said, and told the judges he wanted to give back by using his own money to buy pizza one night for Carroll Hospital’s respiratory department.
“He was confident and comfortable having a conversation with us about his journey, his values, and how impactful the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster has been to his personal growth and to meeting his goals,” Laugelli said.
Zbignewich serves as the club’s sports and recreation intern, and participates in the Leaders in Training/Junior Staff program. He also participates in the club’s strength and conditioning program, trains with the Run Team, and was a member of the club’s first robotics team.
Zbignewich said he has been accepted into the Carroll County Career & Technology Center for automotive repair, and he’s looking forward to attending classes there next year. He’s also making plans for a trip to Boston to take part in the Northeast regional competition ― even if the event takes place online. A $20,000 scholarship is at stake, along with a shot at the national competition (that one carries $50,000 in scholarship money) if he’s chosen as one of six regional winners.
Zbignewich will serve as the spokesperson for all of Maryland’s clubs for one year, and Bishop said he’ll likely get a chance to meet with state delegates, members of Congress and Gov. Larry Hogan.
Bishop said Zbignewich’s goal is to talk with state leaders about the general needs of the Boys & Girls Club of America and relay it to the Maryland clubs. Bishop said Zbignewich asked her if she could set up a Zoom video meeting with the other state locales, because as their representative he wanted to understand everyone’s needs.
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“And I smiled and I said, ‘Steven, you’re the real deal. That is awesome,’ ” Bishop said. “I think he’s the exact example of what Boys & Girls clubs do that are successful for kids. He has blossomed and flourished into exactly kind of citizen that we’re trying to raise for our community. It really has just been a joy to watch that whole journey with him.”