Picture young Arianna Williams, riding the city bus through Phoenix just to make it to the Boys & Girls Clubs. Her family lived in South Phoenix, but she attended school out of district. Excessive bullying was largely responsible for this inconvenience, plus her parents worked late and other afterschool options were way too expensive. After Mom showed her the ropes, Arianna was taking the bus to the Warner A. Gabel Branch, barely a teenager yet reveling in a newfound independence.
The bus rides were worth it, to say the least, for both Arianna—Gabel’s 2016 Youth of the Year—and the Club itself. Arianna coped with the bullying and the school transition by throwing herself into the Club. In the process, she changed it for the better.
Arianna felt compelled to create something. A lover of theater and far from introverted, she envisioned a more engaging way to make announcements at the Club. With the help of a Club staff member, she began recording, broadcasting Club announcements, events and more. Arianna wrote the script and read it, the Club’s very own news anchor. These were the humble beginnings of what would become Lights, Camera, Teens! (LCT), a program exclusive to Gabel that has since taken off, meaning Arianna’s creation is now fully grown.
This will make it all the more difficult to say goodbye, but when she does, Arianna will be well-equipped. Besides supporting her vision, the Club provided Arianna invaluable experience and growth. At Gabel, she cultivated her vigorous worth ethic, learned how to communicate and conduct herself professionally, discern where to get good advice, how to build a resume and how to interview. She values most her experience with Leaders in Training (LIT), where she often helped serve daily meals.
“Kids get SO excited about food!” she recalls about her time in the kitchen. Since every kid eats, this was Arianna’s opportunity to talk to each and every one of them, every day, which she cherishes.
She’s on the precipice of big things now. Her Yale sweatshirt isn’t a random wardrobe piece; it represents but one of the 13 impressive schools to which she’s applied that also include Northwestern, Duke and Cornell. Arianna, however, is leaning toward New York University, and recently auditioned at its Tisch School of the Arts. She thinks she did well, falling just short of pleading with them to “Let me in your school!” she says, laughing. Whichever of her suitors wins, it’s there where Arianna will pursue theater as well as journalism. A talent for writing hard news with the personality to convey a message to an audience? This sounds familiar …
Although there’s nothing familiar about Arianna, who is as self-aware as she is passionate about her interests. She doesn’t consider herself naturally book-smart, and has combated this through sheer hard work. The self-confidence required to succeed in performing arts is evident but not at all overbearing; Arianna settles on modest praise—“I think I’m a cool person”—when asked to describe herself in light of her many accomplishments. And you know what? She is.
At Gabel, Arianna created something from nothing, a teenager leaving behind a legacy. What she creates next remains to be seen, but no doubt all eyes and ears will be tuned in.