Zakaria Mohamed laughs with friends around a pool table, smiles as he shoots a basketball and bounces around a room in which everyone knows his name.
It's hard to imagine that smile, those laughs, were once the scowl and growls of an angry teenager, a Somalian immigrant transplanted half a world away after living in a refugee camp in Kenya.
His gang-colored bandanas and rough-neck crew have been replaced by a bright Boys and Girls Club t-shirt and acts of philanthropy.
"Everything's changed," said Mohamed, a senior at West High. "I consider myself a changed person. I used to be nothing, because I had nothing. Now I'm someone."
Mohamed's transformation earned him the Youth of the Year award from Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. The 17-year old is now one of five finalists for the state honor, which will be announced next week.
Mohamed has been a member of the Capitol West Club for more than three years, since arriving in Utah with his mother, Safia, and older sister, Zinap Lame.
Club director Maren Miller said Mohamed was "surly and angry" when he first arrived. But she noticed changes in his attitude after about six months.
"He was all about the 'thug life,' " Miller said. "We just talked to him and asked if he understood the clothing he was wearing suggested he was a gang member."
But one particular experience changed him.
"One day our teen director said something to him, and he said, 'You have a bad attitude,'" Miller recalled. "And she said sorry. That was the first time anyone had apologized to him. They had a conversation about it and he realized he didn't have to be tough here. â¦ The walls started to come down from there."
Mohamed said the transition to Utah was a difficult one. Unfamiliar with cafeteria cuisine, he said he barely ate during his first week in school. Unaccustomed to his new class environment, he said he didn't take notes and didn't participate.
But staff members and friends at the Boys and Girls Club helped him adjust. He now enjoys chicken and rice, and expects to graduate in the spring.
A role model to some of the club's younger members, Mohamed said he realized three years ago that his actions were a bad influence on kids in the club and in his Rose Park neighborhood.
"It's good to be a good guy, to have kids looking up to you," Mohamed said. "I would see a lot of kids doing the same things I used to do. Somebody had to be the good guy to change those other people."
That positive influence was displayed in October as Mohamed organized a trick-or-treating fundraiser to support UNICEF. He collected $300.
"He wanted to do a project to help kids in Africa," Miller said. "He's so interested now in staying out of trouble."
Along with the title, Mohamed received a $1,000 scholarship for his Youth of the Year honor. The state prize would include another $1,000 and a trip to Southern California for the western regional competition.
Mohammed has spent the past few weeks preparing for state competition. In addition to completing a profile packet and two essays, Mohammed will give a three-minute speech and will be interviewed by a panel of judges.
Mohammed said he plans to put his scholarship to good use in the fall when he enrolls at Weber State University. He plans to pursue a career in law enforcement.
"I want to provide safety for the people who need it," Mohamed said. "There's a lot of things going on in this neighborhood and I want to change that."
Zakaria Mohamed, a senior at West High, was named Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake.
Mohamed is one of five finalists who will compete for the state honor, announced Feb. 8.
Capitol West Club director Maren Miller said Mohamed's has transformed from "surly and angry" to "happy and thoughtful" in his three years as member of the club.