HARLINGEN — There’s so much to know about Zena Nazar.
She’s an honor student at Early College High School, a member of the National Honor Society and an employee of the Main Unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlingen.
And something else.
As of Monday, she represents every member of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Texas after winning Youth of the Year for the state.
“I feel honored to represent all of the Boys and Girls Clubs members in Texas,” said Zena, 16, who is also a member of the Keystone Club, a leadership organization for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Zena delivered a poignant speech Monday to judges describing how the Boys and Girls Club had empowered her to face numerous difficulties in her young life.
“There were many events in my childhood that attempted to rob me of my childhood and forced me to grow up way too quickly,” the speech read.
“So who am I?” she asked rhetorically. “One day an event occurred that would change the course of my life forever. I walked into the Boys and Girls Club filled with anxiety and anger. That’s when the club director, Ms. Hilda, told me all about the programs the club had to offer.”
Hilda Gathright is the unit director of the LeMoyne Gardens unit of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen.
“This is when the club experience began playing one of the most important roles in my life,” Zena wrote. “I started attending daily, eight years now to be exact. I have acquired so many skills, more than I ever imagined achieving.”
Zena spent months honing her skill at speaking to a live audience, but then the coronavirus reared its ugly head and she learned she’d have to deliver her speech online.
“In the beginning I was confident that I would get judges’ attention because of my presence, like being there, my emotion and my eye contact and stuff like that,” she said. “I was determined that that was going to get me to the next level, to the top six finalists.”
She wouldn’t be going to Austin to deliver her speech personally, she would have to do it in virtual time right here in Harlingen.
“When they told me it was going to be online I felt very discouraged, like how am I going to get their attention through the computer?” she recalled. “So I prayed. I was like ‘God, if this is for me, you’re going to give to me. And I’m confident, if I’m meant to be the Texas representative, you’re going to help me do it.”
When the time came, though, she drew on all her practice and coaching for the past few months, and it paid off.
“I said it the way I would say if it was in person,” she said. “I feel I did a really good job, giving the message of what I was wanting to say in person. But it was a little discouraging. It felt like it wasn’t real.”
But her speech impressed the judges. For the first time in more than 20 years, a Harlingen youth has made it to the regional level of the national competition.
“It was surreal,” she said. “I started crying, and my first initial reaction was jumping into Hilda’s arms because she’s been my advisor the whole time since I started coming to the Boys and Girls Club. I felt I owe it all to her in a sense, but truly I owe it all to the Boys and Girls Club.”
She’ll be working on her speech for the next few months to present it at the regional competition in September in Dallas.
Needless to say, she has big plans for her future. She wants to study communications at Texas State University in San Marcos.
The world is waiting for her.