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Youth Spotlight: CJ Yurcak

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

From the Court to the Auto Shop, Yurcak’s Compassion and Leadership are Contagious

Accomplished high school athletes might collect titles such as Western Slope Co-Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, All Conference First Team, All State Colorado High School Coaches Association (CHSCA), All State Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports (CCGS), and six unique seasons as captain. For many athletes, this would require a busy enough schedule for them to hang their hats and relax off the field and court. Cassandra "CJ" Yurcak has humbly accomplished each of these feats through volleyball, lacrosse and basketball, yet there is so much more that defines this Eagle Valley High School (EVHS) Senior.

What sets CJ apart from her peers is the way she handles situations. There have been a series of formative experiences that have impacted CJ, including losses of close friends and family members. A major tragedy shook our community six years ago when CJ‘s dear friend Olivia died by suicide. A long-time teammate and friend, this shocking loss brought their social circle together in unexpected manners. “The more we talk about Olivia and other losses, the more exposure we have and the less likely it is to happen again,” CJ reflects. She is determined to help break stigmas and increase access to resources and supports. The aftermath of Olivia’s death brought weekly check ins with close friends as well as tremendous support from counselors. Olivia would be walking with her graduating class this year. CJ invited Olivia’s mother Vicky to walk with her on senior night for volleyball as a nod to her remembrance and their friendship.

Reaching out and making sure people know others are there for them is critical. CJ describes, “It is imperative to be mindful of how you show up for and treat others, and how you take care of yourself in the wake of tragedies. There are people who want you there.” She continues, “More recently, in remembrance of Kellen, everyone was there to support each other. We have such easy access to each other - lets make sure we are cautious of what we are saying and use those avenues to check in on each other.” CJ calls out local resources such as Speak Up Reach Out, Eagle County’s local suicide prevention coalition, and the Happiness Project, where she often shares tips and quotes for inspiration. She talks about being intentional about how we show up for others, and how sharing kindness can change someone’s day.

For CJ, losing her good friend to suicide was a wakeup call. She describes the challenges of attending a larger high school where not everyone knows each other, and how it can be intimidating to get involved. Her advice to peers would be to get involved; to do as much as you can and have as many experiences as you can. You only get to be a kid once. Enjoy it while you can. It makes for a fun experience to be able to float from group to group and get involved with so many aspects of school and social life, travelling for sports, and getting to volunteer. What a great outlook to have on community engagement, and a beautiful reflection of CJ’s childhood in our community, and gratitude for this special place.

Formally, CJ has pursued a number of volunteer roles. Her parents are a primary inspiration to get involved with the community. She has been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten and her brother is an Eagle Scout. Her parents have always been involved as coaches and troop leaders, and her father is currently one of the most frequent volunteers with the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance. She has volunteered at the animal shelter where she ended up with a pet rabbit, and served with National Honor Society and Link Crew- both great ways to enrich her high school experience. Highlights in her volunteerism have been welcoming incoming freshman through Link Crew, and building four doghouses with her uncle and father for the animal shelter. She recently helped lead a project with students from Brush Creek Elementary where they visited the animal shelter and created flyers about animals up for adoption. They made over 40 flyers and every animal was adopted!

Another unique aspect of CJ is her interest and potential future in automotive mechanics. Spurred from a shop class at EVHS taught by her friend Rylie’s dad, she was encouraged by her father to pursue a course that offers practical life perspective. CJ describes, “I was taking a lot of Dual Enrollment courses but not anything path-oriented. Our teacher Jim makes it a fun competition- and I love competitive environments! For example, we compete in who can change a tire quickest. I like to push myself and never thought I would succeed in this field. We have two females and the rest guys, out of class of 18. The problem-solving I learn in auto can apply to so many areas of my life.” Through her auto shop experiences at EVHS, CJ is embracing a future of obtaining certifications in automotive and diesel mechanics, alongside an Associates in Applied Science and competitive volleyball career. This opens up numerous possibilities for her future including owning an auto business, teaching, or moving onto another venture and holding auto as a side hobby. Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming is incredibly lucky to have CJ join their campus this year!

Written by Michelle Stecher,

Michelle Stecher serves as the Executive Director of Mountain Youth, a local organization dedicated to youth development, prevention education, and community engagement. Michelle is also the proud aunt of CJ Yurcak.

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