When Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh alumna and 2015 Youth of the Year recipient Allie DeGroot talks about her friendship with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, her face glows.
The 19-year-old took a special trip a few months ago to Washington to meet with FBI Director James Comey and Johnson. The chance came about during the Boys & Girls Club’s annual WineFeast fundraising event last April.
“He knows me by name,” DeGroot said recently. “I didn’t expect him to remember my name or check up on me.” The senator was not what she expected from a businessman, she said, adding he was really relaxed, talked about family and took the time to follow her.
DeGroot had shared with the 350 WineFeast guests how the club changed her life and what her plans for the future were after graduating from high school. She wanted to go on to college and work for the FBI one day. During the dinner she sat next to Johnson, who invited her to travel to D.C. and tour the FBI and meet with Comey.
Tracy Ogden, the Club’s development and marketing director, said Johnson was taken with her and they chatted about her life story. DeGroot told him about her dream to work for the FBI.
“I said I was interested in working for the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit, like a profiler,” DeGroot said. “Ron said, ‘You should come to Washington and meet the head of the FBI. I have connections.’ ”
The seed was planted.
Late in February, DeGroot and Ogden flew to Washington for a three-day sightseeing tour that included several Smithsonian institutions, the Newseum, the Library of Congress, Ford’s Theatre, Arlington National Cemetery, NASA Headquarters, the National Mall and the White House.
DeGroot said, “We did so much! My favorite was the Newseum. It was really, really cool. I was only 6 when 9/11 happened,” and she explained the museum brought the historical event to life for her.
During her meeting with Comey he told her how to get into the FBI. She recited his advice: “You need a bachelor’s degree in anything, pass some tests, go to Quantico, Va., for training, including gun handling, be physical, as in how fast and far you can run, and do pushups and pullups and be mentally ready.”
She felt comfortable talking with him, adding, “He’s a humble guy, really a gentle giant.”
DeGroot’s Boys & Girls Club journey began at the age of 6, and throughout the ups and downs in her young life, she said the Club was a constant.
“I started at 6 seeing others win awards and watched videos of winners from other regions”, she said. It was there that she found a family of other winners.
As a high school senior last year, DeGroot won the title of the Club’s 2015 Youth of the Year due to her service to the Club, community and family, academic success, strong moral character and public speaking ability. She was awarded a $10,000 scholarship from the Club’s Charles F. Hyde Jr. Youth of the Year Scholarship Endowment.
From there, she went on to compete for the state title against 16 other local Youth of the Year winners from all over Wisconsin, and she won the title. For that she received a $5,000 scholarship from BGCA and Disney and a $1,500 scholarship from the Boys & Girls Clubs Wisconsin Area Council.
DeGroot is enrolled in the welding program at the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center through Fox Valley Technical College. Her goal is to complete the program and start an occupation that will allow her to save funds for returning to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
She said she realized that college wasn’t the right fit for her now. Going on the trip helped her with balance and deciding what she wants to do, which is work for the FBI. Going to school for welding has made her more sure of her next step, and she can find a job that will allow her to save money for returning to school. On learning welding skills, she said, “It’s a bridge with a safety net underneath. I’ll have something concrete, something there.”
Just like her time spent at the Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh.