Kiele advocates for connection, helping others overcome adversity

Kiele, Youth of the Year honoree, celebrates and shares successes while looking back at how far she has come over the past four years.
Pictured (LR): Johanna Wicklund (Boys & Girls Clubs of the Bay & Lakes Region CEO), Representative Peter Schmidt, Kiele and Brittany Casanova (Boys & Girls Clubs of the Bay & Lakes Region Graduation Specialist)

Anxiety, depression and fear overtook Kiele during the pandemic, and it almost derailed her entire life. She was isolated and didn’t want to attend school or even leave her bedroom. The pressures of the world were so overwhelming that she didn’t know if she even wanted to be alive.

Intense feelings often come during a critical stage in a young person’s life. A teenager transitioning from middle to high school can be during their formative years. Even without the added pressure of experiencing a global pandemic, the transition can cause a level of stress many young people have never experienced before. There is the unknown of what will happen, changes in expectations of more responsibility and new dynamics in friend groups. The “normal” transition didn’t occur for Kiele, who experienced everything differently because of the pandemic. She had classes online and felt like a tiny fish in an ocean.

“I hated middle school,” Kiele said. “I was pretty isolated, to begin with, and the pandemic made things 100 times worse. I was failing all of my classes, and honestly, I didn’t see a reason to do anything. When I got to high school I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I didn’t even feel like I graduated from middle school because we got sent home because of the pandemic.”

As Kiele entered high school, she was on an unusual academic schedule. She began ninth grade with two days in the classroom, two days learning online at home and an optional day to end the week. It wasn’t ideal for a student already struggling academically and emotionally.

“I was referred to the Be Great: Graduate program through my counselor at school because academics. I wasn’t on track to graduate,” Kiele said. “I met Ms. Brittany, and I was very hesitant. I was angry at the world and didn’t know what to do.”

“When I first met Kiele at the end of her freshman year, she was lost, withdrawn and quiet,” said Brittany Casanova, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Bay & Lakes Region Graduation Specialist. “What I first saw were the aftereffects of depression and isolation. But I could see over time we were building trust and the walls were coming down. Kiele started to open up about how hard life was, and she became more confident.”

Kiele with other Youth of the Year honorees from across the state.

In time, that confidence rose to the level of a leader. Kiele began to succeed academically during her sophomore year. She has since earned a 3.0 grade point average and is guiding other students in the Be Great: Graduate program.

“I feel like beyond academics, this program has helped me become more emotionally in tune with myself and others,” Kiele added. “Ms. Brittany has helped us understand how to respect ourselves and others. It doesn’t matter who you are or what struggles you’re coming in with, there is always going to be someone to help you. Ms. Brittany has created a safe space to learn and be ourselves.”

Kiele began to improve academically, emotionally and socially during her junior year. She became more open and self-assured in her abilities. She began to talk with more students in her classes and helped others enter the Be Great: Graduate program. She took it upon herself to talk about fear, depression, anxiety and academic struggles.

Kiele was encouraged to participate in the Youth of the Year competition at the end of her junior year. Each Club across the country selects one exceptional member to serve as an ambassador and a voice for all of Club’s young people. As the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Bay & Lakes Region representative, Kiele traveled to the state capitol in Madison in mid-March. She competed in a speaking competition, met 14 other Youth of the Year honorees from Clubs across Wisconsin and shared her story with state representatives and senators.

“It was a great experience in Madison to hear from other kids going through similar struggles,” Kiele said. “The speech was the most stressful part, but it was a non-judgmental environment overall. I liked talking with the representatives and senators because the government doesn’t seem normal as a human being.”

Kiele will graduate this spring and aspires to take her music passion to the next level. An avid attendee of concerts, she got connected with the lead singer of a band in Milwaukee over a year ago. Last summer and into this school year, Kiele traveled with the band across the country learning how to manage their travel plans and business decisions, help with venue scheduling, sell merchandise, create social media content and promote and support the band at concerts.

“I hope by sticking my foot in the door it leads to bigger things,” Kiele said. “It has been a privilege to travel with the band. It’s really exciting, and I am looking forward to my future. I can picture a future for myself now when I probably couldn’t before, to be honest.”

Scroll to Top