FRANKLIN, Ky. (WBKO) -- Each year, Boys and Girls Clubs across the nation compete for the Youth of the Year award.
The speech competition begins on a local level between students at individual clubs, then progresses to a state level, regional level, and finally a national level.
In this year's state competition, a student from the Boys and Girls Club of Franklin Simpson, Hunter Graves, won.
"I was very nervous going up there because not only did I have to give my speech in front of a large audience, I also had to keep it under three minutes," said Hunter.
He's been at the Boys and Girls Club of Franklin Simpson for years, and now as a high school student, he's become a peer mentor and a staff member.
"It's a weird experience at first, being the person that you looked up to when you were younger. So that's what I'm really trying to be, is someone the kids can look up to," he said.
Hunter said he especially connects with the kids who are a bit shy, saying he understands their background. In his award-winning speech, Hunter said, "The truth is, my family was poor. Bills weren't getting paid, and my mother was tired of living a life of financial instability."
He went on to tell 13 News, "On top of the divorce, I go into my speech impediment. I've been in speech therapy since I was in preschool until fifth grade so that large period of my life I was in speech therapy, and the only reason I graduated speech therapy in fifth grade is because we didn't have a speech therapy program at the middle school."
"I just think it's crazy looking at me back then, when I would barely even speak, and now I'm giving speeches in front of large audiences. It's truly amazing and the Boys and Girls Club has helped me tremendously with that," he added.
The next step for Hunter is to compete for the Midwest Region title in Chicago. That speech contest will be in July.
"The Boys and Girls Club of Franklin, people kind of look at us as a small town and maybe we are but you know, Hunter's going to be able to go compete in the Midwest against Chicago and Milwaukee and St. Louis, and I think he's going to stand just as good of a chance as any of those kids," said Jef Goodnight, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Franklin Simpson.
Goodnight, who has watched Hunter grow up, said this is the first time anyone from the Boys and Girls Club of Franklin Simpson has won the state level competition.
"My hope is that when they (the kids at the Boys and Girls Club) walk through our door, they know that they're cared about and they know that they're in a safe place," Goodnight added.
Hunter just completed his junior year at Franklin-Simpson High School with several AP classes under his belt and a GPA greater than 4.0. He's been accepted into the state's Governor's Scholar Program and hopes to one day attend the University of Kentucky and become a high school history teacher. He has already been awarded several thousand dollars in scholarship money for winning the state competition.