LACONIA — Sara Palmer says that when she was in the sixth grade she was headed in the wrong direction and would most likely have continued on that path if it hadn't been for the adults she met at what is today the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region.
''I was hanging out with a not very good crowd of people and before I came here I felt that my life would never amount to anything. I had the attitude that 'I'm from Laconia, so I'm never going to go to college.' I was shy and awkward and didn't have any interest except race cars, which not many girls relate to,'' says Palmer.
But when she started going to the Boys & Girls Club some six years ago she found something she had been looking for, the companionship of other young people and support from caring adults who got her pointed in the right direction.
''I used to feel that I couldn't succeed at anything and I was afraid to try. But now I've learned that I do have something to contribute and I'm not afraid of anything any more,'' says Palmer, who this fall will be attending the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, North Carolina, where she will be learning the skills that could someday put her on one of the top racing teams in the country.
''For a long time it was discouraging. People would tell me you're a girl, you'll never get into racing. But I stuck with it and have learned a lot by working with Jeremy Davis' Racing team,'' says Palmer, who on Tuesday of this week was something of a guest instructor in her automotive tech course at the Huot Regional Technical Education Center at Laconia High School, where she explained to all of the other students in her class the type of adjustments race teams make to their cars to get better performance out of them.
''She's a perfect example of what this club can do for young people,'' says Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams, president of the board of the board of directors of the club. "When she first came here she was painfully shy. Now she can get up in front of a room of adults and speak about her experiences and the things that motivate her. It's really remarkable and we're fortunate to have her here as a part-time employee,'' says Adams.
Palmer says that the staff brought her under their wings and made her feel important by letting her help out. ''I had no siblings and always wanted to have some. They let me help out with the young kids and I started to form friendships and things grew from there. If it wasn't for this club I don't know where I'd be. They made me a better person and helped me gain confidence in myself''
She works about 20 hours a week at the club and says that since she only has two classes her senior year at Laconia High School, automotive tech and applied physics, she is able to have a part-time job and help young people, many of whom are dealing with the same issues she faced and look upon her as a role model.
The children have had fun lately in their art program signing her names on engine hood of Jeremy Davis's pro stock car which the Tamworth driver will race in the Granite State Pro Stock Series.
''We're good friends and I've helped out with other race teams'' says Palmer, who says that she's looking forward to the 63 weeks of training that she will receive at the NASCAR Technical Institute.
''Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s garage is right behind the institute. It's right in the center of the stock car racing world,'' says Palmer, whose dad is a retired NASCAR race team worker who once worked for Mark Martin's team.
She already owns two trucks, a 2002 Chevy Silverado, which,she enjoys working on, and 1969 Chevy truck that her father will work with her to restore, and says she's familiar with working on all parts of automobiles, from transmission and brakes to engines and alignment,
Palmer says once she graduates from the NASCAR school she hopes to find a spot on a race team and work her way up.
''She's just one example of the good things the Boys & Girls Club is accomplishing,'' says Adams, who says the club is very grateful for the support it has been receiving in its $2.4 million capital campaign, which earlier this year reached the $1 million mark.
Sara Palmer, a part-time employee of the Lakes Region Boys & Girls Club, and Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams, president of the board of the board of directors of the club, hold the hood of a race car which has been signed by art students at the club. Palmer has been honored by Boys and Girls Club of New Hampshire for her activities at the local club. (Roger Amsdeb/for The Laconia Daily Sun)