CLIFTON — As part of a night when 17 New Jersey kids were honored and a total of $60,000 in scholarships were doled out, the Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey announced its State Youth of the Year and Military Youth of the Year award recipients.

The June 14 gala at Montclair State University was emceed by 17-year-old Olympic gold medalist and "Dancing with the Stars" winner Laurie Hernandez of Old Bridge, which was a thrill for Military winner Kuanyah Norris.

"She was one of my role models that I look up to, considering I've always loved gymnastics," Norris said with a nervous laugh, thinking about her idol.

Norris is just finishing up her freshman year at Northern Burlington High School, and part of her community service that qualified her to receive Boys & Girls Club recognition was the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Installation Children's Christmas Party.

Other distinctions she said are important include maintaining good grades and high community involvement, while being involved in a youth program like the one near Fort Dix.

"It was a great opportunity for me to show my skills, and how I can accomplish my dreams, and this is the beginning for me," Norris said of her award. She aspires to be a news commentator.

State Youth of the Year winner Carlos P. (second from left) with Laurie Hernandez (third from left) (Photo courtesy of Susan Haspel)

Susan Haspel, Boys & Girls Clubs state director, said each of the 17 finalists for these honors demonstrated true leadership, amazing academics, healthy lifestyles, and the ability to be incredible team members.

Norris' immediate next move is participating in a Northeast regional competition against other state Boys & Girls Clubs winners on Monday, with even more scholarship money at stake. After that, she'll spend the summer attending various youth camps.

To find out more about the Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey, visit bgcnj.org.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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