Now, a few years later, the Carrollton High School junior has developed into a “quiet leader,” still soft-spoken but confident.
His development since coming to the club has earned McKinney the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta’s 2012 Youth of the Year award for Carroll County. It’s the BGCMA’s highest honor, recognizing teens who, according to the organization, “work hard, invest in themselves and their communities and have their sights set on achieving a great future.”
McKinney and the 18 winners from other Boys & Girls Clubs will be honored at the annual Youth of the Year Dinner & Awards Ceremony on Nov. 15 at the Georgia Aquarium and compete for the title of Metro Atlanta Youth of the Year.
McKinney said the award not only makes him feel proud, but strengthens his belief that he can achieve more.
In determining local winners, the clubs receive applications from teens for the Youth of the Year competition. Community leaders and youth development experts evaluate teens on a variety of criteria, including academic achievement, character and leadership qualities and engagement in the club and community.
“Damarcus has grown a lot since he started coming here,” said E.J. Vereen, executive director of the Carroll County Boys & Girls Club. “This situation has helped him. He’s coming more out of his shell now.”
McKinney learned to use his intelligence, creativity and work ethic to make a real impact on the world around him, said Melanie Buckmaster of the BGCMA.
In 2011, he was named president of BGCMA’s Keystone Club, a service and leadership group for teens ages 14-18. He has also served on the Carroll County club’s Junior Staff, a program in which selected club members are paid for work involving the club.
“The Junior Staff program is where we try to work with the older kids — juniors and seniors — and give them responsibilities to help them grow and learn,” Vereen said. “We hired Damarcus this summer. It helps give them a leg up on getting out into the real world, with that experience and background.”
McKinney was chosen because of his grades, his attitude, his behavior, his economic status and qualifications, and participation in the Keystone Club.
McKinney arrives at the club each day after school, staying until about 7 p.m. He does his homework and mentors the younger kids.
“It comes kind of easy, when I’m helping kids with their homework,” he said. “It makes me feel accomplished, and makes me feel good. It makes me want to do well outside the club.”
According to Buckmaster, McKinney has played a “huge role” in implementing the Teen Garden at the Carroll County club and has been instrumental in its success. He also led service projects at the club, including a literacy night at the elementary school, where he read stories to at-risk children and prepared snacks for them. He has been recognized at Carrollton High School for giving advice and support to peers who are in distress.
“His family has taught him the importance of perseverance,” Buckmaster said. “He regularly helps care for his great-grandmother and handles upkeep of the house. He uses money he has earned at work to help with family and school expenses.”
McKinney lives with his aunt, Betty McClure.
He maintains a 3.5 GPA at Carrollton High, and hopes to attend Valdosta State University to pursue a degree in web design and history.