SEQUIM — A Sequim teen is now “national talent” for the Boys & Girls Club of America.
Seventeen-year-old Pearle Peterson, a two-time Olympic Region Youth of the Year, was chosen earlier this year as a National Youth Talent Performer. In May, she performed in Orlando, Fla., at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s 117th National Conference, and this summer she’ll travel the country performing at national and state club events.
“It feels like being chosen for an Oscar,” she said during an interview in Sequim’s Carroll C. Kendall Unit.
The honor is distinct, according to Mary Budke, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, because “in the 38 years of the history of the club we’ve never had someone selected to perform.”
Peterson, a Sequim club member for 11 years, attributes a lot to growing up there.
“I don’t know where I’d be without the Boys and Girls Club,” she said.
When she moved to Sequim, the club provided her a place to go after school, dependable meals and homework help along with friends and programming, such as Smart Girls, a group that teaches the “ins and outs of being a young girl,” Peterson said.
Over the years, having peers who have faced similar struggles, and mentors and confidants at the club helped her “grow up in an environment where I could be authenticate,” she added.
Peterson also got her first job at the club helping with the Summer Food Program in Carrie Blake Community Park.
In November, Peterson sang at the Olympic Peninsula clubs’ annual auction. This led her and club officials to submit videos and a bio to become a National Youth Talent Performer.
In late January, Budke and a few staffers learned Peterson was selected, and while keeping it hush-hush brought in the Peterson family for a surprise call from Jim Clark, president and CEO of the national organization.
Peterson received an all-expenses paid trip to the national conference accompanied by her family, Budke and board member Carrie Heaton.
In Orlando, she sang in front of thousands of people, with songs including “Waving through a Window” and “The Impossible Dream.”
Of note, Peterson said that she was the only performer not from a specialized performing arts Boys & Girls Club, and that she did not have any previous coaching experience.
“It was really, really cool that a small little town like ours gets to send someone,” she said.
For being selected a National Youth Talent, Peterson was connected with coach Cantrell Williams, director of programs and innovation teens for the national organization.
In an interview, Williams said he was amazed by her talent and character even in their first virtual meeting as she was “thoughtful with a calm yet joyful demeanor, and I was shocked by her level of humility with such a large talent.”
He said, “as we worked together, it was clear that she was eager to learn and dedicated to excellence.”
The pair met at the National Conference and he continues to coach her as she’ll sing at events in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, possibly Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Peterson has also been invited to sing for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties’ auction, and her brother’s wedding.
Previously, she sang at the Washington State Youth of the Year Competition in March and even for local legislators during a visit to Olympia while advocating for mental health funding for youth.
“Pearle is a rare talent, and it has been an honor to work with her,” Williams said.
Along with opportunities to sing in front of about 3,000 people including former Mariner Alex Rodriguez, Peterson was voted by her peers at the National Conference to receive the Aryana Pizarro “Fly Right” Award, the first National Youth Talent Ambassador who died in a car wreck.
“It’s an award for someone who embodied the same spirit and personality she had,” Peterson said. “She was a team player, cheerleader, and inclusive to all. That was a highlight for me.”
Tessa Jackson, Sequim unit director, said “it was evident in how supportive (Peterson) was of other students, and how proud she was of them.”
Along with new accolades and friends, Peterson found singing “Waving through a Window” from “Dear Evan Hansen” was a milestone, too.
“It’s the story of a young kid struggling with anxiety and wanting to be found,” she said.
“As someone who didn’t do traditional schooling in a small town it was a full circle moment for me. I felt I was being heard as a musician and a person.”
After 10-hour days at the conference, Peterson said her biggest daily takeaway was finding new confidence.
One night, she had a geek-out moment too while walking back to her hotel room when someone asked if she was Pearle and asked for a picture with her.
“Oh my gosh, yes!” Pearle said.
She texted immediately afterward to her parents joking, “Oh my gosh, I’m famous!”
Along with singing t events across the country, she will spend two weeks with the Great Futures Productions’ children’s theatre company through The Boy & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe rehearsing and performing “Footloose.”
She’ll also balance working at Sherwood Assisted Living, while serving as the Sequim City Council student liaison, and in various roles for the Sequim unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs.
As a senior in the fall, Peterson will continue online schooling to graduate high school before seeking a degree at Gonzaga University. What her career will be is up in the air, she said, with options ranging from business and marketing to law.
What is certain, Peterson said, is that she wants to pursue music in some capacity.
“Pearle’s self-taught talent is a testament to the skills she has to offer,” Williams said.
“In learning, growing, and sharing, there are many skills that Pearle can continue to develop and enhance, which I’m sure she will.”
He adds that she “has the capacity to take her talents and abilities as far as she desires.”
“She can inspire so many by sharing her voice and/or elevating the voices of others, all while simply being herself,” Williams said.
Peterson has shot for the moon before, auditioning for “American Idol” despite not being old enough at the time, and “America’s Got Talent” at age 14.
Club leaders remember her performing at a local talent show when she was in fourth grade and not placing.
“Her resilience really shows,” Budke said. “To not win and still continue, there’s no quit in her.”
The Boys & Girls Club’s phrase “Great Futures Start here” is true, Peterson said.
“Great futures continue to be made and lived out at the Boys & Girls club and there are a million other kids who would say the same thing,” she said.
For more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, visit bgc-op.org.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.