Paola Bustamante describes the Steve Daru Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson as a “safe haven” while growing up in her west-side neighborhood.

“There are three gangs in this area,” she said of her Jollyville community, north of West Speedway and east of North Silverbell Road. The neighborhood also is known as Silvercroft.

“I never became a victim of the gangs as a child because of the Boys & Girls Clubs,” said Bustamante, 17, a graduate of Tucson High Magnet School. She maintained a 3.5 GPA, graduating a semester early and working nights at a bakery.

She became a leader who was named the 2016 Arizona Youth of the Year by the national Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Thus far, the teen has been awarded $14,500 in scholarships.

Bustamante is now aiming for the regional title in June, which earns another $10,000 scholarship. The regional winner then competes in August for the national title, which comes with a $25,000 academic award.

Her goal is to major in political science and then go to law school at Arizona State University.

Meanwhile, her parents, Alma Encinas, 52, and David Bustamante, 53, are proud of their daughter. “She has worked very hard to reach her goals and has overcome all of her obstacles,” said her father. He thanked the youth organization for supporting his daughter and giving her a “chance at a brighter future.”

The young woman said her parents taught her respect, integrity and honesty, which are values that were built upon at the clubhouse.

Those values, along with focusing on school, paid off. She also learned from clubhouse mentors, who got her involved in sports, about excelling in public speaking and leadership skills as well as the importance of being a part of a team.

While her parents worked late, Bustamante spent her afternoons and evenings at the clubhouse, 1375 N. El Rio Drive, under the supervision of employees and volunteers who helped guide her beginning at age 7.

She recalled being scared, shy and insecure and how her mentors helped her blossom and become confident and outgoing, along with her two older brothers who also were members of the clubhouse.

“I learned who I was and what I wanted to be when I grew up,” said Bustamante, who now is a mentor and is passing on life lessons to others.

“Paola lives by her values. She helps us with anything we need,” said Anayeli Hernandez, the clubhouse director. “She develops friendships with the kids and is a big sister and good role model for them.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson has six clubhouses and serves more than 5,000 youth each year. For more information go to bgctucson.org or call 573-3533.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@tucson.com or 573-4104. Twitter: @cduartestar