By Kristina Houck
As the first in her family to graduate from high school, Meliza Espinoza has not only served as a role model to her siblings, but to dozens of local youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito.
In addition to receiving her diploma, the Torrey Pines High School graduate was recently honored as the nonprofit’s “Youth of the Year” during its second Youth of the Year Gala Aug. 8 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
“I’m still shocked,” said Meliza, 17, who lives in Solana Beach’s Eden Gardens community with her parents and three younger siblings. “I can’t believe I’m the Youth of the Year. It’s such an honor. You have to be a leader to be named Youth of the Year.”
Meliza has been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s La Colonia Branch since fifth grade. The branch serves 63 elementary school children and 43 teens each week in Eden Gardens. As one of the branch’s first teen program members, she has always encouraged other teens to participate in the after-school and teen mentoring program.
During the summer, Meliza volunteers as a Leader in Training at the La Colonia Branch or Harper Branch, which is also in Solana Beach.
“Since they have given a lot to me, I want to give back,” said Meliza, who also participated in the AVID program and helped in the Adaptive PE class at Torrey Pines before graduating in June. “I’m thankful.”
Besides her volunteer experience, Meliza graduated from high school with work experience, having recently participated in a new mentor program offered through the La Colonia Branch and Crush, an Italian restaurant in Solana Beach.
Launched in April, the 10-week program combined shadowing and one-on-one mentoring to teach teens workplace skills. Five teens were selected for the program.
“Being a part of the Boys & Girls Clubs has made a really big impact on my life,” she said. “It made me confident and realize I could accomplish my goals.
“By graduating high school, I did something that my parents always wanted me to accomplish. I have accomplished something really big, but this is not where I’m going to stop.”
Meliza is attending MiraCosta College in the fall. Her next goal is to transfer to a four-year university and study social work or psychology.
“I want to help other kids be successful in life,” she said.
As the Youth of the Year, Meliza received a $1,000 college scholarship from the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito Foundation and an HP Notebook donated from Hewlett-Packard. She will go on to compete at the local, state and regional levels for Youth of the Year, with the five regional winners meeting in Washington, D.C., to compete for the National Youth of the Year title and a $50,000 scholarship.
For more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, visit