Aiming for change, teens take part in AFAP conference
August 18, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas - With a seeming endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, Fort Hood teens spent two days advocating for a better future at the Great Place. Approximately 40 teens took part in the Teen Army Family Action Plan Conference at the Oveta Culp Hobby Soldier and Family Readiness Center.
Modeled after the annual AFAP conference, the teen conference gave a voice to the young adults in military Families at Fort Hood.
"It's just really important to give them an opportunity to discuss any issues and concerns they have that affect the quality of life for them as military teens," Diane Mansfield-Williams, Fort Hood AFAP program manager, said.
It's a process that has been taking place since 2006 at Fort Hood and has resulted in numerous changes and improvements across post.
A new group of teens spent Aug. 13 in workgroups designed to create a positive improvement for kids and teens that are stationed at the Great Place after them.
Mansfield-Williams listed a number of changes implemented from previous conferences.
"Here locally on Fort Hood, the renovation of the theater, the renovation of the skate center and the youth career fairs that we now hold, those were teen AFAP issues," Mansfield-Williams said.
The teens were split into four workgroups, where they banded together to identify issues and concerns that affect their everyday lives. Mansfield-Williams said there was some trepidation at the beginning of the conference.
"A lot of them weren't really sure of the process or the purpose … A lot of them said their parents told them to come," she said. But they quickly warmed up to the idea of the conference and the changes they could help put in motion. "They were eager to come back and address issues that they have."
By the second day, the discussions were serious and lively. Teens debated the merits of a Fort Hood app for smartphones and inquired why a driver's education course wasn't offered on post. They also tackled issues that they face as they grow up around the military.
One hot topic at the Teen AFAP Conference was the proposed creation of a teen resiliency course, similar to the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness training that troops go through and the Family Resilience Campus offered to spouses.
"Right now, resiliency training is only for Soldiers and spouses, and we want to expand that," Elizabeth Shelton said. She noted that she has friends and classmates who have turned to substance abuse who could have possibly benefited from something like military teen resilience training.
A second group came up with a similar idea during the conference.
Kristiane Smith said teens often want someone to talk to about the challenges of military life, but, being a teen, they're often reluctant to visit a counselor or admit there is a problem. She said her group hoped to find a solution that removed the stigma of seeking help.
"Instead of saying, 'I'm going to therapy,' it's more of a personal thing. We're calling it 'mastering stress for teens,'" she said.
Other issues raised by the teens included the discrepancy between minimum wage and the pay stipend they receive as part of the Hired program, the lack of varied summer activities on post and lack of Wi-Fi in common areas like food courts.
By the conclusion of the final day, the teens were excited about the progress they made in their workgroups and the opportunities for change they saw ahead.
"It was pretty amazing being a part of this and the fact that I got to voice my opinion and change things that bother me," Khaya Murphy said. "It's kind of unique because I've never been in anything like it."
"I think it's really cool how the teens get to voice their opinions," Smith added. "It's good to get everyone involved. Some teens will be like, 'I'm just a teen, what can I do?' If you do this, you get to voice your opinion."
Some of the teens at the conference were following in the footsteps of their parents, who have taken part in AFAP conferences before.
Sisters Adriana and Kait Lynn Scott both participated in the conference. Their mother has also been a major contributor to the AFAP process.
"I just feel like I'm sort of like my mom, because she's done this stuff and she actually has made a change in the rules," Adriana said. Her mother suggested an AFAP issue several years ago that resulted in Social Security numbers being gradually removed from military ID cards.
The teens said they were happy to share their insight and ideas.
"Teens and adults have two different points of view … adults don't have the same issues," Murphy said. "This helps the Army altogether."
At the conclusion of the two-day event, each workgroup briefed their top three issues. The entire group then prioritized the three most pressing issues out of the dozen presented.
The teens ranked the creation of a Fort Hood app for smartphones as the top priority, the creation of a teen resiliency program as the second issue and the "mastering stress for teens" idea as the third issue. The group also elected two participants, Christian Adams and Breeana Edwards, to attend the Fort Hood AFAP Conference at the end of October and brief their prioritized issues.
At the outbrief, the teens presented their ideas and issues to their proud parents and Nick Johnsen, the director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. He congratulated the teens on their maturity and creativity and provided feedback on their issues. He also shared the good news that a Fort Hood app is in the early design phases, much to the delight of the teens.
"We're already working on it, but it's been a long process," Johnsen said. He also addressed the group of teens and their parents, and thanked the young adults for taking the conference so seriously and giving 100 percent.
"Tell me you don't feel a sense of pride," Johnsen said at the conclusion of the conference. "They have tremendous ideas."
The teens' issues and ideas will be included in the local AFAP conference, which will be held Oct. 25-28.