Emily Frangie reacts to being named the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year at an April 3 banquet.

Reminder Publishing photo by Marc St. Onge

WESTFIELD — When Emily Frangie, 18, began using acrylics years ago to paint landscapes, her skies were dark and the trees forlorn. Sheltering at home and tormented by bullies, painting helped her cope with the loneliness and express what she was feeling.

Frangie is more likely to paint sunshine and blue skies these days. The Westfield teenager has turned her life around and been named Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield.

Youth of the Year Emily Frangie stands with her brother Sean, dad Matthew and mom Michele. Not pictured is her brother Dillon.
Reminder Publishing photo by Marc St. Onge

“The club was instrumental in helping me cope with the bullying and become confident in myself,” she told Reminder Publishing. “I had different outlets to share how I felt. I would pour my feelings into my artwork and share that with the world. It made me confident what I had to say was valued and I was worth it as a person.”

After a competition that involved answering essay questions, sharing her achievements, being interviewed by judges and telling them her life story, Frangie received the youth award at a dinner where she made a speech before hundreds of people. More than three dozen children and young adults at the club were eligible to be nominated for the award.

“I struggled a lot with bullying in my younger years. I wanted others to see someone, who was labeled weird or uncool, could get up on that stage and give a speech about their story and inspire other people,” she said. As Youth of the Year, Frangie received a $2,000 college scholarship from the club.

Childhood struggle

Frangie spent her early years in Springfield, in what she called a dangerous neighborhood. Fearing for her safety, she said her parents never let her leave the house, other than for trips to school. 

“My parents were always concerned about me going to other places, even if it was just a friend’s house. They didn’t know what kind of environment I would be placed in,” she said. “It was manageable during the school year, but over the summer, I would get lonely very quickly.”

Frangie has been attending the club since she was 6 years old. She’s been to summer camp, played with other children, gone on field trips, and competed in sports like flag football, volleyball and swimming.

“These are outside my comfort zone, but I felt encouraged to try new things,” said the 18-year-old. “I didn’t have to be good at it right away. They just wanted me to have fun. I felt confident doing what I wanted to do, no matter what anyone else said, because this was a safe space.”

Jocelyn Carella-Erickson works at the club and is Frangie’s mentor.

“She’s the best of the best. She’s cut from a different cloth. This kid inspires me,” Carella-Erickson said. “She is a ray of sunshine. Emily works in the kitchen and the kids get excited when she’s delivering their meals, to catch her up on what they’re doing.”

Taking on cancer

Frangie is graduating from Westfield High School this spring. She plans to attend Quinnipiac University in Connecticut this fall. Her major will be biology in a program that allows her to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in four years. Her focus will be cellular biology; her goal is to become an oncologist, to research cancer and treat its victims.

“I have family and friends who have suffered with that disease, so I’d really like to be able to help that cause and make a positive impact and change in those people’s lives,” she said.

As she has grown older, Frangie is now a mentor herself. She’s always helped kids in the club, but as Youth of the Year, she is taking on a more formal role.

“I try to help all kids, but I’m specifically a mentor for the teen girls through our Smart Girls program,” she said. “I’ve had kids tell me they feel safe with me.”

The next step for Frangie is to compete for the state Youth of the Year award this month at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. If she wins there, it’s on to the nationals in Washington, D.C., where the winner has an audience with President Biden.

It’s a long road ahead, and a long way from huddling at home in Springfield. Until now, Frangie has been on the sidelines, watching others achieve the distinction she now treasures.

“I want to spend my life helping others, because I know what it’s like to struggle — to show them there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “It’s so fulfilling and I’m so glad I get to do this.”

Staasi Heropoulos
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