Editor's Note: In conjunction with the Month of the Military Child, the Alaska Post continues the month-long series on different components of Child, Youth and School Services programs. This week's story explores CYSS care and programming for youth and teens ages 11 to 18.

FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - April's Month of the Military Child celebration is not only for young children. It is also for children in that awkward age range between 11 and 18; teens, who would no doubt tackle a myriad of issues as they complete the transition between childhood and young adulthood anyway, but because their parents choose to serve their nation as Soldiers, can face even more challenges.

This perspective is why Tammy L. Ford, Fort Wainwright's Child, Youth and School Services coordinator, said working with middle- schoolers and teens can be tough and requires a different mindset than CYSS workers have working with younger children.
"Middle- schoolers and teens are a unique group," she said. "You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and figure out where they're coming from."

Putting themselves in teenagers' shoes often means thinking outside the box with programming and events.

Megan Brown, Youth Services facility director, has learned to do just that. She and staff from the Youth Center and throughout the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation hosted an "Around the World" lock-in Saturday at the Youth Center as part of a worldwide Month of the Military Child event shared with every other Army teen center.

Brown, who is known for her fun and imaginative teen events, limited attendance at the lock-in to 50 teens, prompting many to show up at the Youth Center six hours before the lock-in started just to ensure they got in. The over-night event included a multi-cultural extravaganza featuring food and culture from countries and regions like Italy, Germany, Central America, the Philippines and Pacific Islands, Haiti, Mexico and Africa.

Wainwright teens shared a conference call during the night with teens at the Youth Center in Hawaii and compared notes about their lock-in activities.

They also danced to flashback music dating back to the 1950s, played midnight basketball, watched movies in the new Youth Center theater, the Bat Cave, and made a military hero quilt that they will send to a deployed unit.

The event concluded with a four-course breakfast prepared by Col. Timothy A. Jones, garrison commander, Command Sgt. Maj. Todd E. Wentland, garrison command sergeant major, M.J. Lohrenz, FMWR director, and Brown.

"We want to let them know we care," Brown explained. "The Month of the Military Child is important because it shows teens that we appreciate the things they have to go through. Every day here is about them anyway, but to have a month just for them is like having a birthday celebration twice."

According to the National Military Family Association, more than 600,000 military children are middle school and high school age youth, and these teens want their parents, teachers and youth workers to know 10 things about them: they are proud of their parents; they think about war and know what it means; they move, a lot; they take on a lot of responsibility; they live in the community; they appreciate recognition of their family's service; they value diversity and new experiences; they miss their parents; they are like other teens in a lot of ways; and they serve, too.

Complex factors like these make programming for this age group challenging, but very rewarding, Ford said.

"We don't so much provide care as we do opportunities," she said. "We help them learn to problem- solve and we mentor them. They're developing their personalities. They're learning to focus on their interests and determine what it is that they like. And they're learning how to fit into society."

No one program will address all of the needs of teens, so CYSS offers a combination of recreation, developmental and leadership programs to address the four service areas - sports and fitness, life skills, arts and leisure and mentoring - necessary to holistically meet the needs of Wainwright teens, Ford said.

This combines the recreational opportunities and events at the Youth Center, including open recreation, field trips, events like the recent lock-in, dances, clubs and programming with Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 4H programs, Youth of the Year competition, Youth Leadership Forum and community service opportunities. Fort Wainwright's Youth Center teens also participate in the Army Family Action Plan and even launched a standalone Youth AFAP Conference this year.

Beyond the Youth Center, CYSS offers the Hired program through Workforce Preparation which provides on-the-job training for teens with FMWR partner business facilities and garrison agencies. Participants shadow business managers for 16 weeks, gain insights on topics from resume writing to interview skills and dressing professionally and receive a stipend, said Heather Bauer, CYSS program operations specialist.

The Explore, Develop, Grow and Excel program also offers unique teen programming, like the "Walk the Walk" class offered in April, teaching runway and modeling skills to participants. Teens from this class will show off their new skills during a fashion show at the Month of the Military Child carnival Saturday.

EDGE! classes for 11 to 18 year-olds are free of charge, as is are all programming and events for teens through the Youth Center and CYSS.

"Youth Services programming for middle- schoolers and teens is free," Ford said. "They don't have to pay for any service to attend the Youth Services facility."

May EDGE! classes for 11 to 18 year-olds include "Golf 101," "Bedroom Makeover," "Let the Good Times Roll" (Bowlingbowling), "Fit for Life," "Comic Book Drawing" and "College Prep."

For more information about EDGE! programs, call 361-4391. For more information about the Youth Center, call 361-4801.

Part four in the Month of the Military Child series in next week's Alaska Post will examine CYSS policies and procedures that create quality, seamless care for children at Fort Wainwright.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16