‘I can’t stop smiling’: Lawrence Boys & Girls Club member reacts to winning statewide Youth of the Year honor

photo by: Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence

Lawrence High School freshman Arabella Gipp — pictured here in the center of the group holding the sign — was joined by her crew of family, friends and Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence mentors Monday night as she was named the 2022 Kansas Youth of the Year. Gipp will represent the state in a regional Youth of the Year competition this June in Dallas, Texas.

A Boys & Girls Club member from Lawrence is set to represent the entire state in a few months after being named the 2022 Kansas Youth of the Year.

Arabella Gipp was selected as the winner of the statewide competition Monday night during a ceremony held via Zoom. She’ll advance to represent the state of Kansas in the Boys & Girls Club Southwest Region Youth of the Year competition on June 10 in Dallas, Texas.

Gipp, a freshman at Lawrence High School, told the Journal-World she was shocked shortly after hearing the news Monday night.

“I’m shaking in my core,” Gipp said. “I thought I was going to pass out. We had to stay on the Zoom a little longer and talk about some things, and I thought my heart was just going to stop beating there and I’d be dead. A lot of things happened, but I can’t stop smiling.”

Gipp’s path to the honor started with being named Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence’s Youth of the Year early last month. Since then, she’d been preparing for Monday, a day filled with virtual social events with the other candidates and interviews with judges for the statewide competition. The field of candidates included five other club members from across the state — one each from Manhattan, Topeka, Hutchinson and McConnell Air Force Base.

According to a press release from the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, the statewide Youth of the Year competition is usually more involved than what took place on Monday; candidates in a typical year’s competition spend around three days together in Topeka and participate in Legislative Day at the state capitol. However, this was the third consecutive year the statewide competition has taken place virtually.

This is the sixth time the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence has produced the Kansas Youth of the Year, according to the release. Ruth Gathunguri, who served as a mentor to Gipp in the club, was the last Lawrence candidate to win the statewide competition, with back-to-back victories in 2018 and 2019.

Representing the entire state had yet to sink in on Monday night, Gipp told the Journal-World.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Gipp said. “It probably will tomorrow. I’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am representing so many kids in Lawrence, so many youth in the Boys & Girls Club.’ But I’m ready for it, I’m ready to share my story. I love Boys & Girls Club and how it helps me.”

On Monday night, Gipp was joined by a crew of family, friends and mentors at the Center for Great Futures for a watch party. She said it was exciting to celebrate with them, and a supporter could be heard cheering over the Zoom call as Gipp finished giving a speech during the award ceremony.

“I was in a separate room so I could be in the meeting, and there was like a whole bunch of windows and you could just see all the people jumping up and down, being excited, yelling,” Gipp said. “I just had to keep my composure and stay on the Zoom meeting to get all the information I needed.”