LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Ryan Nellon is right in her element as the art director at the Billy Mitchell Boys & Girls Club in Little Rock.

“It’s just a great place to be,” Ryan said.

She started going to the club when she was just five years old. Now at 17, she works there and serves as a mentor at a place that was once her sanctuary.

“It just provides a safe place to go,” Ryan said. “Better than being at home. It gives you something to look forward to.”

Whether it’s exploring creativity in the art room, playing in the game room, or getting active in the gym, the club has always strived to achieve its mission of developing youth into their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.

“She embodies more than that,” Steven Riffle said.

Steven is the unit director at the Billy Mitchell club. He has known Ryan since she was a little girl.

“She’s a leader. She takes what we’ve taught her and she passes it on to the smaller kids and that’s what we want all of our youth to do,” Steven said.

That is why the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arkansas voted Ryan as the Youth of the Year.

“I was very excited to get to share my experiences and everything I’ve learned and done here,” Ryan said.

Steven said there’s a reason Ryan is the perfect role model.

“She can relate to them [the kids] and their situation. Her upbringing has been a lot like the kids that are here,” Steven said.

She has overcome her own challenges in life thanks to mentors like Steven.

“I learned to be myself and I’ve learned about a lot of things like what I would like to do with my future and they’ve inspired me to be a better person and really live life to the fullest extent,” Ryan explained.

It was a full circle moment when Ryan transitioned from member to mentor.

The 17-year-old is about to begin her senior year at Central High School. She’s excited to continue her journey as a Hi-stepper. After graduation, she wants to attend college in Texas and become an audiologist.