The 15th annual “Table For 4” Luncheon was a regional success, honoring the local youth of St. Louis

Youth honored for their leadership, volunteerism and awareness at luncheon presented by Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis

Ismail Botchway, center, received at $1,000 scholarship from the Boys and Girls Club St. Louis Internship Program. The award was presented by 20 Minutes to Fitness founders, Laura and Paul Miller, who are also supporters of the youth organiation. Walter Pritchard/St. Louis City Stadium

The bell rang as it always does to start a normal school day at Visual and Performing Arts High School last October, the 24th. Students gathered books and other belongings from lockers as normal morning chatter filled the hallways as teachers welcomed learners to their respective classrooms. 

The day was Monday. It was not a normal day.

A mass shooting.

A former student shot and killed teacher Jean Kuczka and student Alexzandria Bell before being shot and killed by police. Other people were wounded or injured during the mass shooting in the school at the corner of Arsenal and Kingshighway in the St. Louis Public School building.

Ismail Botchway, a student at the school, was there that dreadful day. 

He shared his essay about that heartbreaking tragedy during the 15th annual “Table For 4 Luncheon” on April 27th presented by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis (BGCSTL) Women Leading the Way, a supportive philanthropic group. 

Ismail received the inaugural Joan Ellyn Silber and Dr. Flint and June Fowler Award for leadership and volunteerism. He also is a former member of BGCSTL St. Louis Internship Program at the Armstrong Teasdale Law firm. 

Ismail used his role as a Junior Class Mentor to “bring our school back together” to some sense of normalcy.

“I used my leadership and team building skills to help students feel safe during this tragic time,” Ismail confidently and poignantly read the words he had penned.  “I was able to use my voice to reach out and support not only my friends but any student in my school to let them know I was there for them.” 

He said he grieved, too, but wanted to comfort others by helping students from other schools “navigate difficult situations.” As part of FOCUS St. Louis, he said he assisted in the developed of “Community St. Louis” to assist students “feel included, respected and safe.”

He credits the leadership program to instill in him the significance of being a leader and his ability to “change the world one step at a time.”

Also, a recipient of the leadership and volunteerism award and a member of the internship program was Jiyu Zhang, who immigrated to the United States at age six. In her essay, she said her journey of learning English “was a strenuous one that involved self-driven studying.” 


Jiyu said that her trek in English fluency and volunteering has taught her the “importance of dedication, opportunity, and taking the initiative to seek out every opportunity for self-improvement.” She added that working with the “passionate professionals” at an influential accounting firm elevated her confidence.

Both Ismail and Jiyu received $1,000 scholarship awards from the internship program. 

“Once I was able to read, write and speak English, new doors opened up to me and I eventually became one of these doors though volunteerism,” she said.

Zhariah Davis, who has eyes on a career in biomedical engineering, was recognized as the 2023 Youth of the Year. Zhariah said the boys and girls club energized her confidence and helped her enhance her social skills.

“The staff also played a big role in my character development by making sure I felt safe but also by pushing me outside of my comfort zone,” she said.

The luncheon raised more than $20,000 that helped BGCSTL reach its fundraising goal of $135,000.

Walter Pritchard/St. Louis City Stadium

BGCSTL President and CEO Flint W. Fowler, Ph.D., said support for the organization allows youth to reap the benefits of programs and services to help them succeed in life.

“Our focus on academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles help to ensure our members graduate from high school with a plan for life with credentials needed to embark upon their post-secondary interests,” he said.

Table For 4 makes the following programs possible for BGCSTL Club members.    

  • Keystone Club (ages 14 to 18) and Torch Club (ages 11 to 13) are yearlong leadership programs.
  • Keystone Conference is a national conference hosted by BGCA that brings thousands of Keystone Club members to discuss issues facing their club and community.  
  • College Tours allow members to learn about different colleges and universities and expose them to college campuses.  
  • Junior Staff prepares members for future employment through the curriculum.
  • Youth of the Year is the biggest honor a Club member can receive and recognizes their contribution to their family, school, and community.  
  • SMART Girls (Skills Mastery and Resistance Training) is a program specifically for BGCSTL girls to build self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence.  
  • St. Louis Internship Program (SLIP) is a BGCSTL partnership to foster opportunities for area teens in the career and workforce readiness space.  

For more information about BGCSTL, visit or call 314.335.8009.


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