San Marcos youth organizations
Ernie Montano. Photo credit: @boysgirlsclubssm via Facebook

The Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos is honoring member Ernie Montano, who has been named the San Diego County Youth of the Year.

When he heard his name announced last month, Montano, 17, recalled that he “felt super excited.”

The San Marcos resident, a part of the Boys & Girls Club for more than a decade, will go on to represent the county in the organization’s California Youth of the Year competition on April 12.

Montano’s mother turned to the Boys & Girls Club after the family’s move from Salinas to provide her children “the safe place she had been searching for.” Her son added that she wanted the club’s help “with homework and to keep us off the streets.”

The senior at Mission Hills High School has gone on to become a role model for his peers, spending more than 400 volunteer hours serving his community. He’s a part of the Leaders in Training (LIT) program and also became the first club member to be offered a paid summer internship as a junior staffer.

Armando Lara, the club’s director of teen services, praised Montano for his performance as an intern, saying he “worked with kinder and first grade youth to provide impactful summer programming to combat learning loss. He instantly became a favorite of our elementary school members and was a huge support for our summer staff.”

His service projects include providing meals and creating care packages for people experiencing homelessness, as well as humanitarian and fundraising efforts for those affected by natural disasters.

The aspiring dentist, who plans to attend Palomar College in the fall, hopes to use his platform to advocate against gender stigmas that can negatively impact young adults. He explained that the Boys & Girls Club created an environment where “they care about you regardless of your identity and preference.”

Montano, a former Junior Youth of the Year, describes his club home in San Marcos as a “great place for my siblings and I. Knowing that I am safe and that there are people who care about me, means the world to me … We love everything this place is and love everyone who is here.”