Athena Kintgen

Athena Kintgen delivers her speech as Chaffee County Youth of the Year in February at Silver Cliff Ranch. The teen advanced to the Colorado title and was named Southwest Region Youth of the Year on June 4. She advances to the national competition in September in Washington, D.C.

Salidan Athena Kintgen, 18, was named Boys & Girls Clubs Southwest Region Youth of the Year June 4 in Dallas, Texas.

Kintgen has had a remarkable year.

Among other highlights she starred as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” at Salida High School, graduated from SHS and received the True Colors Award at the Ark Valley Pride celebration.

In February she was named Chaffee County Youth of the Year and in April earned the state title and a $5,000 scholarship.

The Southwest Region award comes with a $40,000 scholarship.

In September, Kintgen and mentor Tessie Jo Ortega will travel to Washington, D.C., for the national competition.

Kintgen had to overcome hardships in her early life, including a hearing loss diagnosed in elementary school and a turbulent relationship with her father, an alcoholic, who died when she was 9.

She is candid in her competition speech about those events in her life and how they helped her to become person she is today.

She said she didn’t expect to get as far as she has as Youth of the Year.

“I had no idea,” she said.

Over the last several months she has rewritten her essay multiple times to get ready for presentations.

She recalled being nervous at the state level until she realized how nice and kind the judges were.

She said her goal has been to represent herself and the club as best as she could.

The trip to the competition in Dallas was the first time Kintgen had ever been on a plane.

She said the ride was a little bumpy, but she thought the turbulence was fun.

The best part of her experience in Dallas was meeting and playing Uno with other candidates while they waited in the holding room for their turn to present and be interviewed by the judges.

Every time someone would come back from their interview they would cheer, she said.

In July Kintgen and Ortega will head to Orlando, Fla. for a leadership conference.

Kintgen joked she was told to get used to wearing the club T-shirt and a blazer.

She said what she has enjoyed most about the process has been meeting people.

“The money is going to go,” she said, referring to her scholarships, “what matters is the connections made.”

Here at home, Kintgen continues to work at Salida Boys & Girls Club making connections with kids and teaching sign language.

“I only invest my time in things I’m passionate about,” Kintgen said.

Ortega said she is not surprised by Kintgen’s success and at the same time can’t believe it.

“It’s a good opportunity for her and opens doors for her,” Ortega said.

She said it shows that Boys & Girls Clubs provide a lot of opportunities for kids.

As Kintgen’s advisor, Ortega said she coordinates the paperwork, helps with editing essays, coaches her through practice interviews and lends moral support during speeches.

She said they have bonded through the experience and their common interests.

Ortega said Kintgen has changed the Salida club.

“The kids are inspired by her,” she said.

Regardless of the outcome of the national presentation, Kintgen plans to attend the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs in the fall to study sociology and American Sign Language.

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