Kansas native Trei Dudley will tell you that she’s not always traveled the easiest road. Her family struggled financially, and domestic violence threatened the comfort and safety of their home. Still, this exceptional young woman maintained her focus and desire for something better… she strived for success, excelled in school and in her community… and is now Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Youth of the Year.
While Trei’s journey begins with obstacles that no child should have to face, there was support just down the street from her house; Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas. Trei joined the Club when she was in kindergarten, and found help and encouragement in the form of peers and Club staff, who were always there to listen. “They lifted me up with their positive spirits,” she says. Many days, just knowing she could go to the Club the next day gave Trei the hope she needed to get through the problems at home.
Trei’s parents separated when she was in the fourth grade, and the fear of violence no longer loomed over the family. However, times were still hard, and Trei’s mother had to take on a second job to make ends meet. Being the oldest child still living at home, Trei assumed new responsibilities, including housework and helping to raise her two younger siblings. With so much responsibility on her young shoulders, the Club provided Trei with a safe space in which she could “just be a kid” and have fun with her friends.
As Trei grew into a teenager, however, she began to develop a stronger appreciation for what the Club represents; everything it had given her, and for the opportunities that it could potentially provide her in the future. With her mentors at the Club encouraging her, Trei pushed herself academically. She joined Go, Girls, Go (a part of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s national SMART Girls program), which teaches valuable life skills to young women.
Trei also jumped at the chance to work as a junior staff member, and was known for going above and beyond to establish supportive relationships with younger Club members, offering advice and helping them build self-esteem. “When I attended the Club as a member, I grew closer to the staff and began to think of the Boys & Girls Club as my second family. The feeling was indescribable, and I decided that it needed to be spread among others,” she explains. “It was my turn to be that positive role model I once had as a child. I wanted the younger kids to feel that they can achieve anything they desire because they have a support group that will always be there for them.”
But Trei didn’t stop there. She continued to inspire, by volunteering at a local community center, a soup kitchen, and an organization that provides support for homeless families. At her high school, she was captain of the cheerleading squad, an editor of the yearbook, and became a board member of Can We Talk, a group dedicated to helping at-risk youth achieve their full potential.
Motivated by her transformative Club experience, Trei knew she wanted to help other kids in difficult situations, giving them the same support and encouragement she received from her Boys & Girls Club. “The Boys & Girls Club has given me a safe place, filled with caring adults, and the opportunity to better myself,” she says. Now a freshman at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and studying business management, her plan is to one day open her own center for youth in need.
Trei’s Boys & Girls Club provided her with so many important things over the years; a refuge from domestic violence; a place to enjoy her childhood when the burdens of home weighed heavily on her; and mentors who made sure she had every opportunity to pursue a brighter future. But Trei has also given something as equally valuable back to her Club… with her warm spirit, positive attitude, infectious enthusiasm, and drive, she has become an exceptional mentor to her peers. And the kids who know Trei couldn’t ask for a better model to emulate.
Toyota Financial Services is a proud sponsor of Pacific Youth of the Year and the National Youth of the Year dinners where TFS awards more than $70,000 in Toyota scholarships, and a new Toyota vehicle to the National Youth of the Year winner. Trei recently was awarded a brand new Toyota Corolla and received more than $2,500 in scholarship money, which was raised through the TFS Brand Story contest. The TFS Brand Story Contest gives our associates the opportunity to acknowledge extraordinary and everyday moments where they witness fellow associates delivering an experience that exemplifies the TFS Brand. These stories help our associates visualize a TFS brand culture that builds strong relationships and creates loyalty through extraordinary customer service. For every Brand Story that is submitted, TFS contributes $10 directly to the Youth of the Year program supporting youth in every state. This year more than 2,150 associates contributed 7,444 stories.