Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach residents candidates for ‘Youth of the Year’ award


For the first time, the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Dieguito will honor an “outstanding Youth of the Year, chosen from 10 outstanding individuals that attend the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Dieguito.” The award will be presented at its Caribbean Nights Gala on Saturday, July 20, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The gala event will fund more positive outreach activities for over 20,000 local youth.

Here’s a look at the 10 special candidates for the Youth of the Year award:

• Kevin Zhang, Allred Branch Carmel Valley

A Carmel Del Mar student, Kevin is described as brilliant, kind, gentle, polite and playful. He enjoys math, science and reading — last year he won first prize as an “Incredible Reader” in the Carmel Valley Library’s summer reading program, participated in the Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair and performed at advanced levels in English and Math STAR tests at school.

Kevin is also a swimmer and says he would like to be an architect when he grows up.

“Kevin is a true friend and a caring young boy,” branch staff said.

• Brandon Rodmel, Harper Branch Solana Beach

Brandon takes full advantage of homework time at the Harper Branch but as soon as he’s done, he enjoys playing soccer, basketball and the Minute to Win It game.

“Seeing Brandon without a smile on his face is rare and his optimistic attitude rubs off on the other kids,” according to the branch staff.

Although he can be shy, coming to the club has allowed him to open up and make friends of all ages.

“The positive influence Brandon has on the other children at the club, especially his peers, is obvious to anyone who meets him,” said the staff.

• Daisy Aguilar, La Colonia Branch Solana Beach

Daisy has been a member of the club since the fourth grade. When she reached middle school, the La Colonia branch did not yet have a teen program so she volunteered as a leader in training, assisting with arts and crafts, games and cleaning up. Once the teen program began, Daisy was active in encouraging other teens to join as she was concerned about a growing drug problem in the Eden Gardens neighborhood — she wanted her fellow teens to have a safe and positive place to interact.

As a leader within the club, Daisy helped build a vegetable garden and is a positive role member for younger peers.

“Daisy is loved by all the staff and her peers and will be missed when she attends college,” branch staff said.

• Madison Cohen, Polster Branch Carmel Valley

A member at the Polster Branch since 2007, Madison has participated in almost every athletic program the Boys and Girls Club has to offer, both recreationally and through Big 8 Middle School Athletics

Upon reaching high school, she returned to Carmel Valley Middle School to coach the field hockey team, reaching the championship game two years in a row.

“She always has a smile and kind word for every student-athlete she works with and is a great communicator with adults as well,” staff said.

At Torrey Pines High, the incoming senior has a 3.67 GPA, served as ASB president and as an adaptive PE aid for peers with disabilities. She has also volunteered at the Helen Woodward Animal Center, San Diego-area food banks, and last summer went on an eight-day medical mission to Nicaragua. She was recently offered a field hockey scholarship to play at UC Davis.

• Noah Ayers, Solana Beach Aquatic Department

Noah has been a member of the Rancho San Dieguito Swim Team at the Boys and Girls Club for more than three years. He recently moved into the highest competitive level thanks to his work ethic and determination. He specializes in long distance freestyle and difficult middle distance events, such as the 200 and 400 individual medley, the 200 backstroke and the 200 butterfly.

“Noah seems to thrive in the most physically demanding events and displays poise and composure under the competition pressure,” staff said.

Noah faces challenges his peers have never faced, helping his single mother care for his severely disabled older brother at home.

“He balances his family and swimming duties with an upbeat and optimistic demeanor,” staff said. “His buoyant attitude and huge character have made Noah an emergent team leader.”

Noah just completed his freshman year at Torrey Pines High where he swam on the varsity team and had a 3.8 GPA.

• Nico Bruno, Polster Branch Carmel Valley

Nico has been a part of the organization since he was 7, starting at the Allred Branch and then transferring to Polster.

The Carmel Valley Middle School student is described as having an infectious smile and positive attitude, and participates in teen program activities such as dodgeball and Tech Lab.

When Nico first attended the club he was having a hard time dealing with bullying. The staff helped build his confidence and encouraged him to share his thoughts and communicate when he was upset.

“While at the club he has learned how to respect himself, staff and peers. He has learned how to interact with children from many different schools and backgrounds,” according to the staff. “He feels that being around different children has made him realize that everyone is different and special in their own way.”

Nico is looking forward to joining the club’s leader in training program, to share what he has learned with younger members.

• Kaleb Conti, Del Mar Branch

Kaleb has been a Boys and Girls Club member in Del Mar for more than six years. At the club he has been an outstanding member, a constant role model and always making new friends.

Kaleb works hard during the “power hour,” the homework hour dedicated to school work and then participates in outdoor activities such as basketball, football and baseball.

“Although he has seen many changes over the years at the Del Mar branch, his attitude has always been positive and respectful,” staff said.

Kaleb is described as an honest, trustworthy kid who takes the time and effort to do the right thing and make the best out of every situation.

• Matthew “Moonie” Peterson, Youth Arts Academy

During the last seven years at the Youth Arts Academy, located in the Polster Branch in Carmel Valley, Matthew has progressed as a musician, developing a passion for a variety of musical styles.

He plays everything from bluegrass banjo to classical piano to rock and roll guitar and has impressed others with his work as a songwriter.

Moonie has also displayed talent as a visual artist in the form of his portfolio of T-shirt and shoe designs.

Matthew is described as intelligent, creative and compassionate, and he has interned for YAA during summer camp programs for younger peers. During rock camp, he was a great asset, helping other students in the recording studio.

“He shows a great deal of reliability, professionalism and flexibility,” staff said.

• Meliza Espinoza, La Colonia Branch, Solana Beach

Meliza has been a La Colonia branch member since fifth grade and was one of the first teen program members.

She is a hard worker who loves to help others. She jumps at any opportunity to volunteer at the La Colonia or Harper Branch, offering her time as a leader in training over the summer, mentoring younger members and helping with various special events and projects.

“She is very respected and loved by all the staff and teens and is a positive role model for her sisters,” branch staff said. “English is her second language and a challenge she is overcoming, demonstrating that nothing will get in her way.”

Meliza takes full advantage of the help provided in the after-school program and works hard to get her assignments done. She will be the first in her family to graduate high school and plans to go to college.

“Her strong will is an inspiration to those around her and proof she will be very successful at anything she focuses her energies on,” staff said.

• Nana Ueda, Griset Branch Encinitas

In just two years as a member of the Griset Branch, Nana has made a big impression on everyone around her, taking full advantage of every opportunity offered through the club.

She has been involved in ceramics, tile and art programs and in the teen leadership group, the Keystone Club, where she has volunteered doing beach clean-ups and collecting canned goods for the homeless.

“She is an outstanding leader among her peers and an incredible role model for the younger members of the club,” staff said.

Nana also enjoys playing the guitar and art — some of her artwork was recently featured in an art exhibition at the Civic Center Gallery in Encinitas.

To register for the Caribbean Nights Gala or make a donation to the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, visit