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Club's youth of the year surrounded by children

April 12, 2007|By KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

As a teenage girl with a twin, two much-younger siblings and a baby niece at home, Jalisa Jackson is surrounded by children.

She's even one of the oldest members of her second family.

Jalisa, who won a $1,500 scholarship as the Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County, said she is excited about striking out on her own next year when she goes off to college. At 17, she joked she would not miss her siblings - all four live at home, including 21-year-old sister Sierra, who has a 2-year-old daughter - but she said she might be back to visit the club.

"It's just such a positive place, a positive place for kids," said Jalisa, who began hanging out at the club's Pennsylvania Avenue center about six years ago.

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Mandy Hornbecker, a Boys & Girls Club staff member, said after Jalisa and some of Jalisa's friends told her they wanted to visit colleges, she took them on trips to three or four schools.

"I'm glad that they recognized how important it was and wanted to take that next step," Hornbecker said.

Jalisa said she wants to study business or accounting, and she is deciding between George Mason and Towson universities.

Though she plans to participate in commencement activities this spring, she finished her classes at North Hagerstown High School last semester.

Jalisa said she splits her time between her Merrbaugh Drive home, a part-time job at a mail-processing facility and the Boys & Girls Club.

"It's just like a second home. When I'm not here, I'm there," Jalisa said.

At home, Jalisa said last week, she is responsible for waking her 8-year-old brother, Norman, for school, and 4-year-old sister, Diamona, for day care. Then, it's back to bed.

Jalisa said she does not envy her twin brother, James, who still is in school.

"Mom will be like, 'You have to go to (school), and I'll be like, 'Oh, I don't got school tomorrow,'" Jalisa said.

Pictures of Jalisa's family, especially her niece, are everywhere in the home's living room. She said her father died when she was 12.

Hornbecker, who teaches at Hickory Elementary School, said Jalisa always is willing to help the younger children at the Boys & Girls Club.

"We kind of helped her when she was growing up, so maybe that's why she likes to be there for the younger kids," Hornbecker said.

Jalisa said she started going to the club because her friends were going there. As they have gotten older, some members have drifted away from the club, and the programming options have narrowed.

But, Jalisa said, that's OK.

"I like doing what we're doing because we did a lot when we were younger, and I like helping all the little kids do what we did," Jalisa said.

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