Bridgeport teen wins Boys & Girls Clubs’ Youth of the Year
May 3, 2019

Joshua Houston of Bridgeport’s Valentine Boys & Girls Club earns Youth of Year Award.

Joshua Houston may well be one of the area’s few high school athletes who is both an avid poet and rugby player.

Which the UIC College Prep student and Louis L. Valentine Boys & Girls Club member believes only could have helped him form the well rounded personality that won him this year’s Chicago Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year Award.

That award, presented during a recent ceremony attended by more than 1,000 guests, earned Houston more than a trophy. He also received a $1,000 scholarship, four tickets to a 2019 White Sox game, and two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the U.S., courtesy of United Airlines.

He has not yet decided on California or Hawaii. He has, however, settled on majoring in psychology, then going to law school and possibly having a career as a defense attorney.

If many people consider the Beverly native and Bridgeport club participant remarkable, that is not so unusual at the Valentine Boys & Girls Club, 3400 S. Emerald Ave., according to Raul Rodriguez, the club’s program director who was himself a product of the Valentine club.

Part of Rodriguez’s job today includes helping club members such as Houston prepare for all the hoops they must jump through to achieve success.

Houston said the club, which he has attended since second grade, helped him find out who he really is “being Black in Chicago. It also helped me grow up. When I wasn’t at school, I was at the club.”

He said he has been able to “give back” to the club by helping younger children with homework and doing cleanup when needed.

At the same time, Houston remained right on top of his preparations for the Youth of the Year competition, Rodriguez noted.

Houston admitted he was not exactly a stranger to the process, as his sister, Mikealah, was a candidate in the Youth of the Year competition last year.

Houston also has started an after-school poetry program and serves as a leader of the Peacemaker’s Club, a joint program of the Boys & Girls Club and After School Matters, which includes open mic opportunities for youngsters to talk about violence and its causes.

“The kids just want to make a change in the city,” Houston said.

Like the Houstons, Rodriguez volunteered at the club while attending De La Salle Institute and eventually ended up working at the club full time.

“Our goal here at the Valentine Club is to offer a good, safe experience because we do live in a dangerous city,” Rodriguez said, pointing to Josh Houston as “an example of what we want our kids to become.”

The club also makes it possible to meet all kinds of people of many nationalities and cultures, Houston pointed out.

“We have kids coming from all over the city,” club director Dawn Jiminez said, noting that, “during the summer months, we have kids from the suburbs as well. Because the club is centrally located and really easy to get to, we have people travel here and for the programs. At pickup time, you can see everyone is from everywhere.”

Over the years, a number of famous Chicagoans, including members of the Daley family, have been members, Jiminez noted. “The wonderful thing is that, because they gained so much” from the club, “we have people coming back to make donations, volunteer their time, or join the club council.”

Two years ago, the club received a special visit from Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in modern history, who gave water safety lessons while visiting with youngsters, Jiminez noted.

Founded 81 years ago, the club is an unofficial community landmark thanks to the two totem poles at the front door. Jiminez explained that they were made at the behest of the club’s founder, Louis Valentine, a furniture maker who wanted them to be his way of blessing every child who came into the club.

For more information, call (773) 927-7373.

—Patrick Butler