A lot like many teenagers, Elyse Bailey is learning how to express herself.
The 16-year-old from Port St. Lucie is also learning to own her challenging beginnings.
Bailey says she’s no different than the opening line of a speech she penned, “Newborn. Premature. Drug exposed. Foster care. This is not the best way to start life but this is what I was given.”
Despite being dealt a hard hand at such an early age, Bailey wants people to know that there's more to her story than just the cover.
She’s overcome challenges early on and found acceptance at her Boys and Girls Club and through her adopted family.
“I feel like being adopted puts you in a lot of labels. You get questions of, 'were you in foster care? Is that your real family? Do you technically look at them as your family?' All those questions from me are, 'yeah, my family is my family,'” said Bailey.
She was chosen along with a handful of other St. Lucie County Boys and Girls Club participants to compete for one of the organization's highest honors - youth of the year.
Director of Community Outreach at the Boys and Girls Club, Tommy John, explains, “The youth of the year program is a great measure of how well the clubs are serving their members. It lets all of us, all of our colleagues know that the work we’re doing is making a difference.”
Bailey won the youth of the year competition for the county. It's an honor that comes with more than $5,000 worth of scholarship money.
Bailey said, “I was blown away because I started youth of the year to get the experience and networking but I never thought 'what if I win.'”
She plans on using the honor as more motivation to pursue her dream of becoming a public defender. Those who know her aren’t surprised by her high hopes.
John said, “A lot of the challenges she’s gone through and the adversity she’s working to overcome everyday, she’s refusing to let anything stop her, is inspiring to me.”
Bailey has learned and is teaching others, that there’s strength in accepting who you are.
A big credit she said goes to her second family at the Boys and Girls Club.
Bailey said they, “helped me come out of my own skin. I think maybe four years ago three years ago I would not have wanted to step out and tell my story or what I’ve been through but now it’s something I’ve said maybe over a hundred times or so.”
And each time encouraging more to feel comfortable to share their own stories.
In a few weeks Bailey will go on to take part in the statewide Boys and Girls Club youth of the year competition.