TOPEKA – Kiana Knolland, 19, suffered poverty and unthinkable tragedies. As an adopted child, she was born and raised in a single-parent home in Wichita. She now represents Kansas and the United States as the Boys & Girls Club of America’s National Youth of the Year. Today, Knolland was recognized by State leaders, including Lieutenant Governor Jeff Coyler, Department for Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Phyllis Gilmore and members of the Kansas House and Senate.
“I am so honored to have the opportunity to represent my state in such an important way,” Knolland said. “I want people all across the country to realize the amazing opportunities that the Boys & Girls Club offers; I’m now living my dream thanks to the support I received starting when I was just five years old.”
The day of honors began with a news conference at the State Capitol Building in Topeka, at which Lt. Gov. Coyler and Secretary Gilmore presented Knolland with a certificate of appreciation.
“I would be happy to have her work in my office,” Lt. Gov. Colyer said. “She is a true inspiration to at-risk youth; they deserve every opportunity available to them and the Boys & Girls Club is making that happen.”
DCF supports the Boys & Girls Club financially. Most recently, in November, Governor Brownback announced the Kansas Reading Roadmap initiative to improve reading proficiency. DCF is working with the Boys & Girls Club to expand its summer and afterschool reading programs.
“Kiana is a wonderful example of how poverty-prevention programs can create amazing success stories,” Secretary Gilmore said. “We are happy to invest in children’s futures.”
Following this morning’s news conference, Rep. Connie O’Brien introduced Knolland on the House floor. Knolland then took part in a luncheon with the House and Senate Education Committees.
Today also marks the announcement of a new Boys & Girls Club Kansas Youth of the Year. Nine contestants are competing at the State Capitol Building for the title. The winner will be announced at 6 p.m. tonight in Topeka. Knolland and the contestants were recognized in the Kansas Senate at 2 p.m. today. The Kansas Youth of the Year contestants include the following:
Chad McNeal, Boys & Girls Club of Coffeyville
LaShante Robinson, USAG Fort Riley CYS Services
Danielle Sigmon, USAG Fort Leavenworth CYS Services
Gilbert Galindo, Boys & Girls of Hutchinson
Innocent Anavberokhai, Boys & Girls of Lawrence
Kennedy Felice, Boys & Girls of Manhattan
Kylie Woods, McConnell Air Force Base Youth Center
Micah Raider, Boys & Girls Club of South Central Kansas
Antonio Vega, Boys & Girls Club of Topeka
The winner of the state competition will compete for the Midwest Region Youth of the Year. Five regional winners will advance to compete in the fall for National Youth of the Year. Kansas teens have received the honor two years in a row. Along with a substantial scholarship, the winner has the opportunity to meet the President at the White House. Boys & Girls Club President of the south central Kansas region Jeff Redden said Knolland is a source of inspiration to children everywhere.
“We couldn’t be more proud to have her represent south central Kansas and the Boys & Girls Club," Redden said. “And all of our Kansas Youth of the Year finalists would be excellent contenders to represent our state on the national level once again.”
The Boys & Girls Club of America includes four million members. Its mission is to enable young people to reach their full potential and become caring responsible citizens. It offers education and career programs; character and leadership programs; health and life skills training; arts programs; sports, fitness and recreation; and other specialized programs.