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Norbert-Quinn named 2007 Youth of the Year

If there was a way to bottle the energy from Paradise Norbert-Quinn, it could light a city for a long time.

That's the impression one walks away with after talking with the 17-year-old, who was recently named the 2007 Youth of the Year of the A.R. "Gus" Barksdale Boy and Girls Club in Conyers.

A self-described class clown, Norbert-Quinn admits she was disruptive in class. After moving to Rockdale County from Oakland, Calif. a few years ago, she became involved with the Boys and Girls Club. Norbert-Quinn said it was a turning point for her as she channeled her energy for the better.

"It was like a dream come true because I go there, and I learn a lot," she said. "The environment here at Boys and Girls Club feels like a family. I really appreciate that because I did cause problems, and if it wasn't for the Boys and Girls Club, I would not have turned out so good."

Today, she is a senior at Salem High School who is passionate about writing and hopes to become a journalist one day.

Mike Roberts, executive director of the Barksdale Boys and Girls Club, and Robin Bennett, the club's teen director, said Norbert-Quinn is a girl who has taken advantage of all the club has to offer and, in turn, gives back to the club by volunteering at the front desk and mentoring younger girls.

"She comes in here every day, completes her homework and helps out wherever she can," Bennett said. "She reminds all of us of why we work with children."

At first, Norbert-Quinn said she didn't want to do anything at the club. However, she became active in the Keystone Club, a leadership development program at the Barksdale Boys and Girls Club. That involvement soon turned into helping others. Bennett said she has become something of a big sister to the younger boys and girls there.

Norbert-Quinn also serves as a peer mentor at Salem High School where other students can come to her to talk out issues or problems facing them before going to a school counselor. Norbert-Quinn said that on some occasions, just talking to someone else can diffuse a situation.

"I build confidence in myself by helping others," she said.

The impact of the Barksdale Boys and Girls Club on Norbert-Quinn is evident from her praise of the staff and friends she's made there and in her actions. She is active in several of the club's groups and activities, including the college-bound and money management programs.

Roberts said that Norbert-Quinn broke down and cried at a gathering of Youths of the Year from other metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Clubs last Saturday. She was giving a speech on what the Boys and Girls Club has meant to her during the first rounds of competition among 22 other club members nominated for Youth of the Year for metro Atlanta.

"It showed in how much she feels about this club and how it is, in her mind, the reason why she has become a productive individual," Roberts said. "In that, emotions got to her when she reached the point to say that. There was not a dry eye in the room."

The 22 chosen Club Youths of the Year will be honored as finalists for the 2007-2008 Metro Atlanta Youth of the Year. The theme for event is "Making History...Impacting Lives." Scholarships will be awarded to the winner and three finalists. Evaluated criteria include demonstrated ability to overcome obstacles, essay writing, poise and public speaking.

The winner will be announced during an awards ceremony and dinner held at the Atlanta Hilton, on Thursday, Nov. 8.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com