Ever since her days in middle school, Mary Lilly would take the bus home, then walk to nearby Van Bokkelen Elementary School, home of her local branch of the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
She soon became a leader in the organization. Her efforts were recognized recently when Lilly, now 18 and a new graduate of Arundel High School, was chosen as the club's Lillyland Youth of the Year. "I've known her for years," said April Forrer, director of operations for the Annapolis and Anne Arundel club, part of the 100-year-old nonprofit organization that provides a place for kids to study, take part in sports and participate in other activities. "She's a great girl. ... When you meet her, you know right away. She's very well-spoken, very determined, very self-motivated."
Lilly, who will attend Morgan State University in the fall in the honors program of the business school, got to spend three days in New York City, competing for the Northeastern Youth of the Year Award. Though she didn't win it, she said the experience of meeting other Boys and Girls Club winners and sightseeing in New York was wonderful.
The 13 competitors went to see The Lion King, did some shopping and saw the Statue of Liberty, she said.
Lilly first got involved in the club when she was in middle school, she said. Her mother, Gloria Lilly, works there and now is education director.
"We did homework, sports, a variety of activities," Mary Lilly said. She also helped with inventory and paperwork, and even ran a "snack shack" during basketball games.
As soon as she was old enough, she got involved in the Keystone Club, a leadership organization for ages 14 through 18, she said. As part of the club, she helped to organize a college prep day, recruiting speakers to talk about various colleges and their requirements. She also collected nonperishable food items to donate to food banks.
Lilly said that one thing she liked about the Keystone Club was attending Keystone Conferences around the country and meeting other young leaders. She has attended conferences in Atlanta, Minneapolis and Orlando, Fla. The next one will be next month in Washington, to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Boys and Girls Club, she said.
The Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County has four branches: in Van Bokkelen, Bywater, Freetown and Meade Village. A new branch, the Bates Boys and Girls Club, is opening in Annapolis this fall.
To win the state-level award, Lilly first was chosen as the Youth of the Year for the Annapolis and Anne Arundel organization. She competed against about a dozen representatives of other branches, she said.
She had to fill out an extensive application that focused on her academic life, community service and service to the club. She also got letters of recommendation from adults and had to write two essays, one on what the Boys and Girls Club means to her, and one on the value of a post-high school education.
Then the contenders were brought together for interviews with members of the organization's board. "We go in and it's a business interview," Lilly said. "All the interview really does is ask you about yourself. They also ask about different obstacles you have had to overcome."
One obstacle that Lilly has overcome is a painful skin disease that causes her to break out in cysts. "They are very huge, red and painful," she said. "I can't move, I can't sleep."
She started suffering from the condition when she was 11, but it was not properly diagnosed until she was 13, she said. For the past 2 1/2 years, it has been under control with medication.
About adversity such as that, Lilly said: "It will beat you up and knock you down, but it's up to you to overcome."
Lisa HammAck, director of the Van Bokkelen branch of the club, has known Lilly about five years. She is not surprised that Lilly won, because "she was exactly what they were looking for. She has all the qualities," HammAck said.
She said Lilly has terrific leadership and communication skills. "She's great in the community, she's very active in her church [Kingdom Builders Church of God in Christ in Hanover.] She's a very articulate girl, and certainly very smart."