"As we continue to celebrate 20 years of partnership with our official charity, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, we congratulate all of BGCA's Youth of the Year finalists," said Tom Brasuell, MLB vice president of community affairs. "We look forward to hosting Jocelyn at this year's World Series, as we continue a tradition of the National Youth of the Year delivering the game ball to start the Fall Classic."
Woods, 18, will get the party started in an American League ballpark to be announced. It could be in Boston, Cleveland or Arlington -- the site of division champs. It could be in the home of a Wild Card team that is very much to be determined. This location will be a mere formality to the new winner, who plans to study journalism at the University of Southern California and said she is inspired to become a journalist, lawyer and entrepreneur.
"The Club has always been my home; a place that I could count on to feel safe and supported by people who love and care about me, even when the actual place that I lived did not meet those standards," she said. "As National Youth of the Year, I want to make sure kids and teens across this great nation know that there is a safe place, like a Boys & Girls Club, in their local community where they can learn to lead, succeed and inspire."
Through the support of her Boys & Girls Club of Silicon Valley -- the Smythe Clubhouse in San Jose, Calif. -- Woods became a leader in multiple arenas of her life. When she joined at age 5, it gave her a place to call home. Living in a community where drugs, crime and gangs were rampant, Woods found stability behind her Club's blue door. It provided her with positive, caring relationships with adults who showed her that her present did not have to dictate her future.
Woods learned computer coding skills at the Club, helping her secure internships and even coding her own photo-sharing app. She has also dedicated herself to helping teens who are struggling with the same issues she faced, going so far as to spend a week in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco to better understand homelessness -- something she said her family confronted while she was in middle school. She also founded the Under-represented Teen Advocacy Program (U.T.A.P.), a nonprofit that connects Bay Area teens in need with available services.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America is the longtime official charity of MLB, and year-round community events on and off the field underscore the partnership's endless impact. This summer's All-Star Week in San Diego included a whirlwind tour of B&GCA renovations and field dedications that took Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB officials all over the region -- even to Tijuana for a renovation of the first Boys & Girls Clubs of Mexico.
It was at one of these sanctuaries of comfort, learning and fun where Woods found herself as a young person. It showed compassion to her and she gave it right back.
"It was like a momentous day," Woods said of her first day at the Club. "I remember coming in the van, around the corner, and then getting dropped off, and walking into this huge orange building, and getting my little blue card. That was like the best day. It was kind of like walking into a palace."
In addition to its recognition of Woods, MLB is also providing personalized Louisville Slugger bats to all of the finalists for BGCA Youth of the Year. For nearly 70 years, the Youth of the Year program has recognized young people for their outstanding leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to living a healthy lifestyle.
Woods accepted her honor at the National Building Museum in Washington on Wednesday before an audience that included members of Congress and Boys & Girls Clubs of America partners and supporters, including Club alum and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland, Grammy Award winner and actress Ashanti and comedian JB Smoove.
"Jocelyn symbolizes the ultimate youth experience with Boys & Girls Clubs, and we are so proud to name her National Youth of the Year," said Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. "Together, we can create opportunities for youth just like Jocelyn, to enable all kids and teens to achieve a great future. Jocelyn and so many of our Club alumni represent all that we do as an organization to help youth, and we know that she will be a voice and advocate for the needs of all young people in our country."