Anaa Jibicho grew up in St. Paul’s Mount Airy Homes public housing complex, the youngest of 10 children to Ethiopian refugees.

This fall, the 18-year-old will become the first in his family to attend college, a feat he attributes to the decade he’s spent at the Mount Airy Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“I went from just trying to get by in life to being a productive member of my community and learning how to give back,” Jibicho said of the lessons he learned there.

Jibicho was named Boys & Girls Clubs of America Midwest Youth of the Year on July 19 in Chicago for his contributions, earning a $40,000 scholarship.

Terryl Brumm, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities, said Jibicho embodies the organization’s mission.

“He’s one of those incredible young people who works so hard on himself and to do his best but is equally focused on making the world a better place,” she said. “He’s done so much to support the club and other kids.”

Jibicho and his family fled Ethiopia in 2007 because of persecution of the ethnic Oromo people.

His family immigrated in waves to the United States, where they landed at Mount Airy Homes. Jibicho and several friends were playing soccer outside one day when he was about 7 or 8 when a St. Paul police officer approached them and gave them a free day pass to the housing complex’s Boys & Girls Clubs location.

“I was skeptical of it at first,” Jibicho said. “It was kind of the place where the not-cool kids went at the time.”

But he and about a half-dozen friends went that same day and were all granted free membership.

Jibicho said he soon started spending every evening after school at the club, staying as late as 9 p.m.

“It was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” he said. “It really got me out of the streets.”

Jibicho learned how to set goals and challenge himself. Brumm said as he grew older, he began taking leadership roles in the club, helping to organize a forum in 2017 for St. Paul mayoral candidates to address a few hundred youth. He worked with his high school, Washington Technology Magnet, to host an event that brought local corporate leaders and youth together to talk about careers.

“He really demonstrates what all the work in Boys & Girls Clubs is all about, and the work that we do is empower youth to reach their full potential,” said Brumm, who mentors Jibicho.

Jibicho, who has already earned more than 80 credits at the University of Minnesota, plans to attend Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., in the fall on a full-ride scholarship.

He plans to study philosophy, politics and economics. He also plans to soon launch Didomi, a company that will sell reusable water bottles and donate half of its proceeds to bringing safe drinking water to developing countries.

Jibicho, a Bill Gates, QuestBridge and Dell scholar, is among six teens who will compete in September in Washington, D.C., for the club’s title of National Youth of the Year and will serve as a national spokesperson for the organization.

“There were so many ways to go wrong, and the Boys & Girls Clubs steered me in the right direction,” he said.