MEET K.J. — DeLandite Kenneth Jackson, who goes by Kenny or K.J., was selected as the Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Club of Volusia/Flagler counties. The last time a youth of the year came from the Lacey Family Spring Hill Boys & Girls Club was in 2018 when De-Terionna Padgett was selected as the region’s Youth of the Year.

Thursday, April 27, wasn’t just any old Thursday at the Lacey Family Spring Hill Boys & Girls Club in DeLand. It was K.J. Day, where staff, volunteers, a member of the Volusia County Council and staff from the DeLand Police Department gathered together to celebrate Kenneth Jackson, or K.J., an 18-year-old member of the Boys & Girls Club who was selected as Youth of the Year for Volusia/Flagler counties.

Jackson has been involved in the club since he was 12 years old, and now, at age 18, he’s a paid member of the Boys & Girls Club’s staff where he works as a part-time junior staff member.

Each year, individual Boys & Girls clubs select a member who goes above and beyond for their community, who serves as an incredible role model and exemplifies everything the club stands for. Then, the regional Boys & Girls club — in this case, the Boys & Girls Club of Volusia/Flagler counties — selects who of those nominees will represent their region at a statewide conference.

Last year, Jackson was the local pick, but he didn’t advance to the regional level. This year, he was selected again, and he had the opportunity to represent Volusia and Flagler counties in Port St. Lucie.

The event, April 21, was a chance for Jackson to meet other youths with a similar background as him and to participate in events. And despite not being selected to represent the Southeast region on the national level, he had the opportunity to go kayaking, do karaoke and enjoy himself for a weekend.

“I didn’t win, but overall, I had a great time,” Jackson said.

And when he came back, he was able to tell the rest of the kids at the club that if they put their minds to it, they could accomplish anything.

CELEBRATING THE YOUTH OF THE YEAR — The Lacey Family Boys & Girls Club of Spring Hill celebrates the region’s Youth of the Year, Kenneth Jackson. Onstage, from left, Director Althea “The Beautiful” Chavers smiles for a photo with Jackson and Volusia County Council Member Matt Reinhart. Reinhart awarded Jackson with a recognition from the County Council for his dedication to the community. Offstage, from left, are Boys & Girls Club of Volusia/Flagler counties Field Services Director Mike Medford, Director of Development Stephanie Ecklin, DeLand Police Officers Latisha Pasley and Jose Torres, Boys & Girls Club of Volusia/Flagler counties President Jenae Mathews, Captain Prurince Dice and Chief Jason Umberger of the DeLand Police Department, the Boys & Girls club’s past president Joe Hearn and the regional Boys & Girls Club’s CEO Joe Sullivan.

Meet Kenny

Jackson’s familiar with having to work for what he has. Born and raised in DeLand, he didn’t have an easy life growing up. His mother wasn’t in the picture, and he lost his father to heart disease when he was just 11. He felt aimless, he said.

“I was a horrible kid,” he said. “I felt like I had no one else to look up to.”

From the age of just 2 months, he was raised by his father’s sister, Erma Long. While Long is Jackson’s aunt, she is also Jackson’s legal guardian, and everyone knows her as his mom.

“That’s my baby,” she said.

Long, who turns 75 this year, has lived in DeLand since 1975. She’s proud of the man her son has become, and while she recognizes she deserves some of the credit, she credits the Chavers family — Jackson’s godparents — and the Boys & Girls Club, too.

When Jackson was 11 years old, he met Althea “The Beautiful” Ross Chavers, the longtime director of the Boys & Girls Club in the Spring Hill neighborhood near DeLand, at a local Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

Jackson joined the club, and even though he was a shy kid, he didn’t stay that way long.

When they join the club, Jackson said, each child has to get up in front of their peers and share their name and two fun facts about themselves. Jackson was almost too shy to do it, but Chavers encouraged him. So he shared his two fun facts.

“My favorite color is blue,” Jackson said, “and I love football.”

That’s how Jackson found his home at the Boys & Girls Club.

“I came out of my shell,” he said. “I’ve been everywhere with this club.”

From then on, he was a regular member. That was until he graduated from middle school and started high school. As a freshman at DeLand High School, Jackson thought he was too busy — and too good — for the club, he said.

But Jackson came back because of his connection to Chavers, and he was surprised, he said, when he realized how many kids in the club remembered him.

He’s been involved in the club ever since, and now, his high-school graduation is bittersweet.

While he plans to remain involved in the club while he’s getting his associate degree at Daytona State College, Jackson has his sights set on work as an officer in the DeLand Police Department.

A BRIGHT FUTURE — Boys & Girls Club of Volusia/Flagler counties Youth of the Year Kenneth Jackson is pictured here at his home club, the Lacey Family Spring Hill Boys & Girls Club, with members of the DeLand Police Department. From left are Capt. Prurince Dice, Officer Latisha Pasley, Jackson, Chief Jason Umberger and Officer Jose Torres.

“I’ve always wanted to be an officer since I was a kid,” Jackson said. “I love helping people.”

Part of that drive comes from knowing people his age, he said, who are in jail.

DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger is excited to see what’s ahead for Jackson, he said.

“Our youth cadet program aims to build a bridge between law enforcement and our community’s youth,” he told The Beacon. “To see young adults like Kenny transition from a youth cadet to a police officer would be an honor for our agency. We are excited for Kenny’s future.”

Jackson’s life could have been much different if he hadn’t gotten involved with the Boys & Girls Club. With a hard upbringing and nothing to live for, he said, he found purpose with the club.

To anyone struggling, he said, there’s a community out there for you.

“There’s people out there to help you,” Jackson said.

K.J. Day

The Lacey Family Spring Hill Boys & Girls Club organized a big surprise for Kenneth Jackson April 27. Gathered in the clubhouse at 945 S. Adelle Ave. at 5 p.m. was a massive group of the club’s members, the staff, representatives of the DeLand Police Department — including Chief Jason Umberger and Latisha Pasley, a DPD officer who grew up in the Spring Hill neighborhood — and Volusia County Council Member Matt Reinhart. Potentially even more notably, at least to the kids, there was also a large box cake congratulating Jackson on his recognition as the club’s Youth of the Year.

LEAVING A LEGACY — Lacey Family Spring Hill Boys & Girls Club member Jedaiah, at left, thanks Youth of the Year Kenneth Jackson for his involvement in the club and for being a good role model. Jedaiah was one of a number of children
who came up and told Jackson they would miss him when he graduates from high school and has to be less involved
with the club.

When Jackson walked through the clubhouse doors, the huge crowd there to celebrate him was a surprise. Chavers and the other representatives from the Boys & Girls Club leadership walked him up on stage, where a whole host of people took turns sharing how proud they were of Jackson and how well he represents the club.

County Council Member Reinhart shared that, when he met Jackson at an event at the Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach, he was blown away by his leadership skills.

“I watched this man with a take-charge attitude, and it inspired me,” Reinhart said. “I can’t wait to see what you do.”

Other speakers included club Director Chavers: “He is an amazing man,” she said. “I am thankful God placed him in our lives.”

Former mayor of DeLand Bob Apgar: “You’re building a future for our young people,” he said, “and here’s one of the shining examples.”

And Police Chief Umberger, who met Jackson when he got involved with the Police Department’s youth cadets program.

“The Boys & Girls Club and Ms. Althea have been a big part of his life,” Umberger said, “but Kenny’s done a lot of work himself, and that’s a tribute to Kenny. I’m proud of you.”

Once the adults said their piece, some of Jackson’s peers got up and spoke about him, too.

“I really think this club wouldn’t be built the way it would be built without Kenny and Ms. Althea,” one boy said.

Another speaker, a young boy named Jedaiah, thanked Jackson for being involved in the club, while Jackson fought back tears.

“Jedaiah’s comment got me,” Jackson said later. “I really tried not to cry.”

It’s not just the kids who are going to have to get used to Jackson not being around, either. His aunt and guardian Erma Long said it’s going to take some getting used to because the two have spent nearly Jackson’s whole life together.

“I’ve been without him maybe a week,” she said. “I really don’t know how I’m going to feel about that.”

But as Jackson grows, he intends to continue to give back to the community that gave so much to him.


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