This year’s Columbus Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year award winner is described as polite, positive and generous. Based on the number of activities in which he participates, Caleb Cureton also is engaged.

Those qualities made choosing 14-year-old Caleb for the award easy, said Zach Dickerson, teen program director at Foundation for Youth, the Columbus-based community organization that offers programming for children and oversees the Boys and Girls Club.

However, easy doesn’t describe Caleb’s transition about two years ago to Columbus.

Moving to a new city and family struggles made it difficult. But a new world opened to Caleb at the Boys and Girls Club, one that’s allowed him to thrive, his mother, Shana Cureton, said.

Story continues below gallery

“I’ve seen him dramatically come out of his shell, and I think, for him, it was the first time he was safe and felt people cared about him, and he started to care again,” Shana Cureton said.

The Curetons moved from Louisville to Columbus in the spring of 2014 because the father was stationed at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh. However, the effects of his seven previous deployments and post-traumatic stress disorder took a toll on the family, Shana Cureton said.

Caleb, his 7-year-old sister, Aubrie, and their mother found help at Turning Point Domestic Violence Services that summer, she said. It was there that Caleb learned about the Boys and Girls Club. Another boy staying at Turning Point introduced Caleb to the club.

It took Caleb little time to become comfortable with the new situation and new people.

“At first it was overwhelming, and then after a while I found interest in the activities,” Caleb said.

That might be an understatement.

“He is pretty much here every day,” Dickerson said.

Whether it’s after school or during the summer, Caleb rarely misses as day at the club, Dickerson said.

The cumulative impact is that Caleb’s grades have improved, he’s made friends and the staff values him, Shana Cureton said.

Caleb said he enjoys the science programs offered — such as one in robotics taught by a Cummins Inc. employee — because he likes to take things apart and put them back together. Caleb, who will be a freshman at Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School, added that he would like to pursue a career in engineering.

Field trips to state parks and swimming pools, college tours and volunteer opportunities also are a lot of fun, Caleb said. In particular, he enjoys volunteering at the Columbus Bicycle Co-op, which has allowed him to learn about bicycle maintenance and repair.

“Caleb is the only one that stuck with the bike co-op from beginning to end every Thursday,” Dickerson said.

The co-op is the first volunteering experience Caleb said he remembers.

“We help the people there put together bikes. It’s fun to help them and give back to the community,” Caleb said.

“I’ve never really volunteered before. The first time I did, I really liked it and wanted to keep doing it. I feel volunteering made me a better person,” he said.

Caleb said he thinks volunteering has a positive impact on others.

“I just like helping people so they know how to help people in the future,” he said.

His generosity is apparent at the club, too, Dickerson said.

“He’s always good about helping out the other kids,” Dickerson said, whether that’s playing games with them, helping with homework or even giving his sister needed attention.

Caleb’s positive attitude and many contributions made him a clear choice for the award, Dickerson said.

“I feel kind of honored,” Caleb said. “I know a lot of the staff here and some of the staff have been youth of the year in the past.”

While honored, Caleb said he was also nervous because he had to give a brief speech in about his experiences at the club during the annual Foundation for Youth meeting. It was his first time giving a public speech, he said.

At the meeting, Caleb also received the Carlin Lucas scholarship, worth $2,000 toward his future college education. While he knew he was receiving the top youth award, Caleb said the scholarship was a surprise.

His mother said it was another example of how beneficial Caleb’s experience has been at the Columbus Boys and Girls Club.

“I feel so many great things have happened from him being here,” she said.

About Caleb Cureton

Age: 14

Grade, school: Will be a freshman at Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School

Family: Mother, Shana; sister, Aubrie

Career aspiration: Become an engineer

Boys & Girls Club, Columbus

Its programming is located at Foundation for Youth, 405 Hope Ave., Columbus. It is open to boys and girls ages 5 to 18.

Program areas: Character and leadership development; education and career development; health and life skills; the arts; sports, fitness and recreation.

Phone: 812-348-4558

Director: Nathan Larrison, Ext. 302; or by email, nathan@foundationforyouth.com

Fees:

— Annual membership, $25 per child.

— Weekly participaton fee, $17.50 to $35 for members

— Day Pass, $12 for after school; $25, non-after school.

SHARE
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.