In a time of personal crisis, Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester was the safe place LaCarrie Byer needed when searching for an afterschool program for her sons, Derrel and Jabriel.
Alternatives for Battered Women, now Willow Domestic Violence Center, referred her to the club, and she was drawn to its various programs the youth development organization and annual cost of $11.
Derrel Harris became a club member at the age of 7. While he enjoyed playing carpet ball and ping pong in the game room and spending time in the computer lab, his favorite activity was basketball. Harris played Biddy Basketball, a league offered by the club at the junior varsity and varsity levels, until the age of 13. He learned both basketball and life skills on the court.
“I enjoyed being able to play with different people at different levels,” he said. “I developed the heart to always push myself, no matter who I am playing with. The skills and attitude I learned from Biddy helped me at the varsity level at school, too.”
Reggie Smith, health and physical education coordinator at Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester, was a large influence in Harris’ life.
“Reggie taught me to be responsible and to man up,” Harris said. “He encouraged me to be tough, on and off the court. He didn’t want me to get discouraged or be too hard on myself, but to work hard and know that if I wasn’t getting my homework done or behaving at home that it would impact my practice and playing time — those things were important and always came first.”
At 12 years old, Harris was playing basketball at the varsity level at The Charles Finney School. He was in seventh grade.
Harris currently is a senior at Finney, where he plays basketball and football. In his high school basketball career, Harris made 326 three-point shots, just six shy from the state record.
Being a student-athlete, Harris knows the importance of excelling in school. He credits a lot of his time management and passion for doing well academically to Sean Smith, education coordinator at Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester.
“Mr. Smith was always there for me, not only in regard to homework, but anything I needed,” Harris said. “He is a lifetime mentor.”
Because of his achievements in sports and academics, as well as his good character and well-rounded personality, Harris was selected to represent Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester as its 2018 Youth of the Year. After preparing speeches about his club experience and the impact it had on him, he participated in the Western New York Youth of the Year competition. He took home third place, and received a $1,000 scholarship.
“It was a very memorable experience,” Harris said. “It helped me realize what I can do and what I am capable of. It pushed me to be a better person.”
Harris looks forward to playing basketball at D’Youville College in Buffalo in the fall, where he’ll join fellow club member and 2016 WNY Youth of the Year, Wanya Bruce. Harris plans to study physical therapy and get his doctorate degree.