A Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior who learned English as a second language and overcame personal challenges has been named the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club's Youth of the Year.
Anthony Szymonik is this year's recipient of the Southport-based club's highest award, which recognizes contributions to family, school, community and the Boys & Girls Club, as well as overcoming personal challenges and obstacles, Wakeman officials said in a news release.
He was honored April 17 at the state Capitol in Hartford along with winners of similar awards given by 17 Boys & Girls Clubs around the state.
Szymonik's father died when he was 5 years old, according to the club. Of Ecuadorian and Polish ancestry, he learned English as a second language at McKinley School.
He joined Wakeman Boys & Girls Club as a fourth-grader in 2005 and was selected to participate in a Wakeman mentoring program that pairs high school students with McKinley students. Last year, Szymonik became the program's first mentee to return to the club as a mentor, according to the club.
As a mentor, he spends two hours weekly helping a fourth-grader focus on strengthening academic and social skills, as well as physical activity.
"Anthony is a genuinely warm, kind and inspirational young man to our members, especially at McKinley School," Tim Cepetelli, who directs Wakeman's McKinley outreach program, said in the news release.
Szymonik shared his story more with more than 200 donors at Wakeman's annual Celebrity Breakfast fundraiser last year.
He works part time at the local Shop Rite Supermarket and is a member of the Fairfield Co-op varsity volleyball team, which draws players from both Fairfield Ludlowe and Fairfield Warde high schools.
In the fall, Szymonik will attend Fairfield University, where he plans to major in psychology and prepare for a career as a psychologist, according to the club.
"I never realized the impact I can make on others until recently," Szymonik was quoted as saying in the release.
"I've come to understand that I am a role model for other kids who feel small and vulnerable -- they too can grow up and be accomplished," he said.