Huntington North High School senior Caden Searles has achieved many things in his time with the Boys & Girls Club (BGC).
Searles says he started attending the club when he was in second grade. He and his sister were going “from babysitter to babysitter,” he says, but eventually they had to find a different option because their mother wasn’t making enough money to keep paying babysitters rising rates. They were hesitant at first to try the club, he added.
“I hate to say it, but I’m a mama’s boy,” Searles said. “I’ve grown out of it, but I had really bad separation anxiety because I was just always around her. It was a new experience going from nobody at a babysitter – only my sister and I – to 300 kids here every day.”
Though it was a shock at first, Searles said he was glad his mom decided to take them to BGC.
“He’s a 10-year member,” said Program Director of BGC of Huntington County, Desiree Frederick. “He’s been through probably almost every program that we offer on a regular basis and maybe even more than once.”
Searles was a Torch Club member, which is the leadership club for ages 11 to 13.
When he reached high school, he joined the junior staff program. Since then, he’s become a versatile employee, working wherever he is needed.
He is also the president of Huntington County’s BGC Keystone, which is the high school leadership program. According to the BGC website, this program focuses on “academic success, career preparation and community service.”
Every year, the BGC has a National Keystone Conference of roughly 3,000 students. For this conference, they pick a small group of students as a steering committee.
Frederick said, “Each year they pick 10 kids from across all 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs to help plan the conference and Caden was selected this year.”
Though this was a big honor for Searles, he continued on past this success to win Huntington County’s Youth of the Year award.
According to the BGC website, Youth of the Year has celebrated inspiring teens and their journeys for more than 70 years. Each teen in the program is nominated based on exceptional traits “in leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to living a healthy lifestyle.”
“It’s basically the highest honor that you can receive from your Boys & Girls Club,” Frederick said.
Each BGC can choose if they want to participate in the program. Four teens from the Huntington and Warren clubs competed this year for the honor. Each contestant had to write essays, be interviewed and give a speech about his or her club experience. A panel of community partners, teachers and staff members judge the competition each year.
Searles received a $500 scholarship for being Huntington County’s winner. Now that he has won the county competition, he will continue on to the state competition on Tuesday, April 13, where he could potentially win a $2,500 scholarship. Normally, the state event would be in Indianapolis, but it will be virtual this year.
If Searles wins state, his next step will be the regional competition and after that, competing for the National Youth of the Year. Only six teens from across the country compete for the national competition.
“To see him now as a senior, we are just incredibly proud of him from a club perspective,” said Frederick. “And I’m incredibly proud of him.”
After speaking of his achievements with the club, Searles shared several memories from his 10 years attending. The first memory was when a staff member got Searles involved.
“If it wasn’t for him asking (me) to play basketball, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge to play basketball, let alone play a sport,” Searles said.
He went on to talk about trips he enjoyed including Indiana Dunes, his first Keystone Conference in Chicago, a trip to a lake house and a Keystone Conference in Orlando, FL.
After Searles graduates from high school, he plans to go to Ivy Tech for a year to start on a business degree. His classes will be virtual, so he plans to still work at BGC. From there, he wants to continue his education at either Ball State or Purdue Fort Wayne (PFW).
“My goal is to create my own clothing brand,” Searles said.