Federal Way’s Youth of the Year isn’t afraid to step up

The 16-year-old Todd Beamer High School junior was recently chosen as Youth of the Year at the Federal Way Boys Girls Club.

Keanu Earnest is a young man with an easy smile, skills on the basketball court and big plans after graduation.

But those aren’t the only reasons the 16-year-old Todd Beamer High School junior was recently chosen as Youth of the Year at the Federal Way Boys & Girls Club, because Keanu is also eager to volunteer his time, help out his mom and give back to his community.

The Youth of the Year award honors students who demonstrate leadership, service, academic excellence and a healthy lifestyle. Winners at the city level, like Keanu, can go on to compete at the local, state, regional and national level. Keanu and six other young people around King County were honored Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Kirkland Boys and Girls club.

Though he wasn’t ultimately selected to be the King County Youth of the Year, Keanu said it was a great experience: “The judges said it was super close and that I did amazing,” he said. Plus, he still got to take home a $500 scholarship.

Like millions of other teenagers, the COVID-19 pandemic and the related social changes it brought hit Keanu in his high school years — a time when many young people are learning who they are, building their friend groups and getting their first tastes of real independence.

“Once COVID hit, there was no spaces for me to be around, or even have connections, friendships because everything was shut down,” Keanu said. “But here I had opportunity, so I took it, and ever since then I’ve been coming here almost every day.”

The last two years, his first two years of high school “went by so quick,” Keanu said, and he wants to cherish the time there he still has left.

At the Boys & Girls Club, Keanu practices and referees basketball and leads the local Keystone Club, which offers leadership opportunities for high school-aged youth.

“Anything that goes on, I try to help be involved with,” Keanu said.

Keanu wants to continue his education and attend college after graduation. So far, he’s taken business and marketing classes, and he’s thinking of pursuing an entrepreneurial or construction career.

He’s eager to earn scholarships like the one from the Boys & Girls Club so that he can take some stress off his mom’s shoulders.

“Growing up, it was mainly just me, my mom and my sister,” Keanu said. “I just try to make sure she’s (mom) OK, and she tries to do the same for me. We look out for one another.”

Keanu was in the sixth grade around the time his grandfather passed away, and it spurred him to grow up and take on more responsibility to help out his mom and sister.

“I just knew I had to be that person,” Keanu said. “I knew I had to step up for them … Cheer them up, I have to do that. Protect them, I have to do that. I still do.”

He said his values are leadership and giving back to the community: “What you receive, you ought to be able to give back, and not just keep it for yourself,” he said.

And the advice he’d share for a younger person is to “be the person you’re scared to be.”

“If you’re scared to do something because you think other people might think you’re weird … be that person,” Keanu said. “Don’t let anyone stop you from what you want to accomplish.”

Since 1947, the award from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America has been an effort to foster leaders who embody the mission of the club and provide a voice for youth across the nation, according to the website.

Boys and Girls clubs around the country operate summer camps, school programs and athletics that bolster young people’s access to a rich childhood. Locally, the Federal Way Boys and Girls Club operates their club for elementary-aged youth at 30815 8th Ave. S., and for teenagers at the Ron Sandwith Teen Center located at 31453 28th Ave. S.