In Norrie Perreault’s years at the Boys &Girls Club of Oak Harbor, she’s heard her share of pouts and whimpers.
But the sound she heard coming from the hallway one afternoon nine years ago alarmed her so much she made a beeline to the source.
That was the moment she met Immanuel McLaurin, who was 8 at the time, sobbing and devastated.
“He used to live right across the street as a kid,” said Perreault, the club’s longtime program director. “His sister used to come in here. He went upstairs and realized he had to be a member, so a member of the staff said, ‘Well, you can’t be here, you’re not a member.’
“He started to cry. He cried so loud. That’s when I approached him. I asked him what was wrong. He said, ‘I can’t be here. I’m not a member. I don’t have any money. We don’t have any money.’ I actually paid for his membership that day and said, ‘All you need is for your mom to sign this piece of paper.’”
In an instant, a bond was formed between a compassionate adult and broken-hearted child, one that remains strong to this day.
McLaurin is now a senior at Oak Harbor High School who has made Perreault and others awfully proud.
He was recently selected as the Boys &Girls Club of Oak Harbor’s Youth of the Year, a testament to a polite and respectful young man who’s given back to the club that’s provided so much for him.
McLaurin will go up against teenage winners from 17 other Island, Snohomish and Kitsap county clubs at a competition in Mukilteo later this month for the title of Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County Youth of the Year and a spot at the state competition. Oak Harbor’s club is considered a unit of the Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County.
The program recognizes outstanding boys and girls club members based on moral character, service to their club, family and community, academics, public speaking ability and other criteria.
McLaurin and the other winners will be interviewed by a panel of judges and deliver a speech. They already had to write three essays to compete.
“It’s a huge honor,” McLaurin said. “I never thought I’d be able to do something like Youth of the Year. They kept pushing me to the limit. I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s do it.’”
McLaurin, 17, not only was a member at the club as a youth, he volunteered to work with kids and at one point was part of the paid staff.
He continues to volunteer, naturally connecting with the kids while leading programs.
“He’s a really nice kid,” Perreault said. “He’s always been outgoing and very high spirited, very genuine. There’s nothing phony about Immanuel. He’s always willing to help.
“He’ll run the program. The kids love him because he plays and never judges. He plays with every kid, doesn’t pick because they’re popular, doesn’t pick because they’re pretty. He’s just a good kid.”
McLaurin remembers what it felt like to be left out when he was little.
He laughs now when he recalls his traumatic initial experience at the boys and girls club when he accompanied his sister, who was a member. He said his eyes lit up at watching all of the kids upstairs playing games and felt deflated when he at first wasn’t allowed to join them.
Perreault’s intervention won over the youngster’s affection and loyalty.
It was McLaurin’s fear of disappointing Perreault that kept him away from the club for a good stretch of last year after he learned she had been pushing for him as a Youth of the Year candidate.
He was intimidated by the essays but more afraid of letting Perreault down, fearing he wasn’t strong enough academically.
Perreault said she felt he was very deserving of the honor and communicated that to his mother, who assured her that her son would do the work on his part.
McLaurin returned to the club last fall and Perreault let him know that they would be there to support him.
“I was uneasy because of the amount of work that I had to do,” McLaurin said. “But Miss Norrie said she wouldn’t give up on me. That pretty much motivated me. I figured if she’s not giving up on me, I’m going to have to do it. I enjoy it. I love being here. She said she felt that I deserved it so I felt like I would give it a shot.”
He’s glad that he did. In his speech, he speaks from his heart and talks about feeling 10 feet tall because of the faith others have placed in him and the recognition he’s received.
In reality, he’s well over a foot taller than the day he first walked into the boys and girls club.
That was a tearful day for McLaurin. When he makes his presentation in Mukilteo, the roles will be reversed.