SAN MARCOS, Calif. (KGTV) -- High school sophomore Jared Diaz Barrios has been named San Diego County Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club.
As you would expect, he has impressive credentials such as a 4.0-grade point average at Mission Hills High School, but his accomplishments go beyond that and it all started with the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos.
On a typical day, Jared spends more than six hours there.
“It's just completely transformed me into a whole different person and it's become a really big part of my life,” Jared says. But it didn't start out that way. “When I joined it, I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be home.”
But being home with nothing to do was not a good option.
“Growing up on the street I grew up on, it's not the safest place in our city, my community. You're exposed to a lot,” said Jared.
He says he was surrounded by risks, including higher crime rates and drugs. So in 6th grade, with a little nudge from his mom, he agreed reluctantly to give the Boys and Girls Club of San Marcos a try.
“If I would not have taken that decision, I don't think I would be the same person I am right now," he added.
Jared says within a few weeks he joined the club football team. The bonding and competitive spirit he felt, was the turning point, but it was something bigger that sealed the deal.
“That happened when the staff introduced me to something called community service,” says Jared. “I get this feeling, I don't know how to describe it but I don't get it with anything else except for community service. Knowing that I'm able to give back to the community that I grew up around my whole life that's become a big part of me.”
From helping serve 500 meals a day, to fundraising, to tutoring, Jared has already made a huge mark on the club and on the staff.
“He has that rare ability to really make everyone else around him better, make them better students, better friends, better staff," said Armando Lara, the director of teen services.
Lara says Jared's success has helped remove any stigma that some may associate with the Boys & Girls Club, by showing it can be fun and fulfilling.
“You've kept us all going and it's really incredible that someone your age, at 15 years old, has that much impact," Lara said of Jared.
The staff has made a giant impact on Jared too. This club was the port in a storm for him, but now he is the one lighting the way.
“It definitely is never going to go away from me. It's always going stay very close to me. I might be 30, 40 years old and I'll still be talking about Boys & Girls Club,” Jared said. “It's definitely a family to me. It's not an organization anymore, it's a family."
Jared will represent San Diego County in the California Youth of the Year competition in April. That winner will then go on to the national competition. The awards include thousands of dollars in scholarship money.