Getting, giving a second chance
Occupation: Junior at Craig High School, Janesville, and part-time program coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club, Janesville
Family: Mom, Debra Charles, and siblings, Angelo, 21, and twin sister, Alicia, 17
What she wants to be when she grows up: Elementary school teacher or youth mentor
Role models: The staff at the Boys & Girls Club. "They're the biggest role models," she said. "They're always there for me."
Three words to describe herself: Outgoing, fun and understanding
What she'd do with $1 million: "Donate it," she said, splitting it among the Boys & Girls Club, United Way, Red Cross and other organizations.
Words to live by: "Nothing stops those who desire to achieve."
JANESVILLE Andrea Jones believes in second chances, but she knows they don't come around without a reason.
She was a troublemaker in middle school, fighting with other students, smoking cigarettes and doing drugs. Her mother uprooted the family, hoping her daughter would find her footing in high school.
"I didn't really want to leave," Andrea said of the move from Madison to Janesville. "But I realized it was my chance to start over. I was messing up so much and feeling like a failure because people would tell me, 'You're not gonna do anything with your life.' All that hurt. And I just thought, 'I don't want to do that again.'"
She struggled at first, but regularly going to the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville helped her to succeed, she said.
Shelton Evans, a youth advocate at Craig High School, said the turnaround was instant.
"She just said one day, 'I gotta change,'" he recalls, "and the next day at school, I saw her stepping away."
But it became about more than just a personal renaissance: Andrea wanted to use the hard lessons she learned to give other troubled kids the same second chance she received.
The children at the club can't get enough of her, especially since she's the coordinator of several popular programs there, said Becky Buchanan, director of the Boys & Girls Club.
"They always ask about her," she said. "It's always, 'When is Andrea coming?' And even on those days when she doesn't work, she still comes to the club."
Evans said Andrea has dedicated herself to setting a good example—and it shows.
"I think it's her passion," he said, "and when kids see that passion, they can see it from a mile away."
Buchanan said it's all Andrea talks about.
"Anytime you talk to her, she says she wants to be a big influence on the younger club members' lives," she said. "Sometimes, she has a moment when she'll get down on herself and she's unsure of what her future holds … but it always goes back to, 'I want the younger club members to see me as a role model.'"
Andrea was named 2008 Youth of the Year at the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville. She also received a Helping Hand Volunteer Award from United Way of North Rock County and a Teen Hero Award from the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens for her work at the club.
The awards are nice, the 17-year-old said, but that's not what keeps her going. It's the kids she spends her time with—playing games, doing homework and talking.
"Just being able to come to a place where people look up to you—that's the best motivation I have," Andrea said. "They say, 'I wanna be just like you.' And that really touches me. It helps me every day."
And she has pledged nothing but her best in return.
"I don't come here with anything less than a smile," she said, her brown eyes sparkling with pride.