Adopted into a single-parent home near her first birthday, Kiana Knolland said she dealt with a lot of obstacles growing up.
Luckily, Knolland said, her mother got her involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas, a decision that has led to a promising future.
“You can’t go to the Boys & Girls Club and fail,” Knolland said.
Knolland, 18, joined the Boys & Girls Clubs when she was 5 years old. She recently was named Southwest Region Youth of the Year and will compete for national Youth of the Year in September.
When she was in eighth grade, Knolland said, her mother had heart surgery, leaving Knolland with additional responsibilities, including cooking and keeping the house clean.
Knolland said the Boys & Girls Clubs helped her grow up and develop a sense of right and wrong. She said it also helped her develop valuable life skills.
“We surrounded her like a family,” said Jeff Jacobs, chief professional officer of the local Boys & Girls Clubs. “Kiana is the most remarkable member I have ever met.”
Knolland said she enjoys the fact that staff members truly connect with club members.
“You don’t feel like you’re talking to strangers,” Knolland said.
Knolland went to high school at Wichita Southeast through her sophomore year and transferred to Wichita Collegiate before her junior year, she said, in order to better prepare for college. She graduated from Collegiate last May.
Knolland has approximately $20,000 in scholarship money as a result of winning the local and state Youth of the Year titles twice, and the regional title once.
“I feel extremely blessed,” Knolland said.
She will compete for the national Youth of the Year title in September in Washington, D.C., along with five other regional winners. If she wins, she will receive an additional $50,000 in scholarship money.
Knolland said she is excited to go to D.C. where she expects to meet Denzel Washington and President Obama. She has also met former President George W. Bush through the Boys & Girls Clubs.
She plans to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., this fall and wants to be a federal prosecutor in order to serve her community. She recently completed an internship at Foulston Siefkin, a Wichita law firm.
“(Without the Boys & Girls Club) I think I would’ve fallen by the wayside,” Knolland said.