In late 2016, Ardavia Lee’s whole world came crashing down. She and her three sisters were home alone when they heard a knock at their front door. Opening the door to face Wilmington firefighters wearing a ‘sea of red, white and blue,’ Lee and her sisters were told the grim news that their mother, Ardythe Hope, was badly injured after fighting a blaze in Canby Park.
Hope was Wilmington’s first African-American female firefighter, and her daughters were enormously proud of their mother’s courageous line of work. But with injuries too severe to treat, Hope died, leaving her three children to find their way.
After months of healing and working with many in the community who vowed to help, Ardavia made it her mission to get back on her feet. One place she sought solace was the Greater Newark Boys & Girls Club, where the basketball program and community service projects helped keep her busy.
“My life was overwhelming, and I did not know how to handle it. One thing that remained clear was the constant support of the Club staff and my teammates. Today I am a person who is constantly smiling and encouraging of others,” she said.
Ardavia shared her powerful and triumphant story at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware’s annual fundraiser on April 11th at The Queen in Wilmington, where she was awarded the 2019 Delaware Youth of the Year. “I am so proud to be a small part of something so much bigger than I am. The Boys & Girls Club is not just a Club to me. It’s my home,” she said.
In presenting their award to Ardavia, the organization said the St. Elizabeth’s senior is much more than the sum her circumstances. “She is a thriving young woman, who conducts herself with grace and self-worth. She is a leader in her Club and community and a role model for all young people,” said John Wellons, President of Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware.
Award presenters said that while Ardavia didn’t have a choice in losing her mother on that fateful day, she did have a choice in how she chose to move forward. “She has worked hard to walk through her pain, and lean into her faith, family and community and live each day in the spirit of her mother,” said Boys & Girls Club of Delaware’s Hilary LaMotte Burke.
In February Ardavia was awarded a $25,000 Sallie Mae Bridging the Dream Scholarship for excelling both inside and outside the classroom.
Like her fallen firefighter mother, Ardavia is committed to helping others. When she’s not busy maintaining her 3.94 GPA, playing basketball, volleyball or throwing the shotput for the track team, she is volunteering in her community and her Club. She is also considering her college choices, which include Delaware State University and the University of Delaware. She even hopes to attend law school after college.
As Delaware Youth of the Year, Ardavia will receive a $5,000 scholarship from Boys & Girls Clubs of America and $3,500 in scholarships from Janosik Family Charitable Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware.
Joining Ardavia in the Youth of the Year Finalist pool were five other outstanding youth from across the state. Selected among thousands of Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware youth, Tyler C. of Seaford, Tiffany G. of Wilmington, Tair R. of Milford, Jai’mere S. of Laurel and Justin W. of Dover represented their local Boys & Girls Clubs.
“Becoming Delaware Youth of the Year is an exciting and inspirational journey. These young people serve as model ambassadors for other Boys & Girls Club youth and as a strong voice for all young people,” said Burke.