By Mr. Eric Kowal (Picatinny)April 11, 2017
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Picatinny Arsenal resident Jack Rickey was named the 2015 "New Jersey Military Youth of the Year," when he was 16 years old.
Rickey is the son of Retired U.S. Army Col. Jon Rickey and his wife, Jamie. He was first selected in January 2015 by the Arsenal's Teen Center staff to represent the installation in June of that year at the New Jersey Youth of the Year Competition, which is held by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BCGA), an umbrella organization of both military installation Teen Centers worldwide and civilian clubs nationwide.
At the state competition, BGCA selected both a winner from the civilian clubs and a Military New Jersey Youth of the Year, for which Rickey was selected.
With his title comes the responsibility of representing his state and the U.S. Army, the service branch that his military family serves.
"The biggest job of being a Youth of the Year is to be a spokesperson for your center and for the Boys and Girls Clubs as a whole," Rickey said.
"As part of that role, I was asked to speak at the New Jersey Boys and Girls Club Gala in November 2015 at the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark, where Mr. Tony Bennett was singing.
"After that gala, the BGCA asked me and my mom to come to Washington, D.C., for the National Days of Advocacy, last spring. We met with staff members of our New Jersey congressional delegation to talk about the BGCA funding priorities and let the staffers see a face to put to the programs that are so important for our Congress and public to support."
Rickey has proven to be dedicated to the duties he has been entrusted with, along with spreading the word about activities that he greatly values.
"Because of our Teen Centers on military posts and bases worldwide that are a part of the larger Boys and Girls Clubs network, and because of those BGCA clubs in our cities and towns across the country, American youth have safe and fun places to go after school and on some weekends to eat nutritious snacks, play sports and games, or get help with their homework," Rickey said.
"They can be supervised in a cool environment, exercising a little independence away from our parents as we learn to become productive and responsible adults ourselves," Rickey added.
"My biggest goal as a state Military Youth of the Year representative is to increase participation at the centers, the Picatinny Teen Center in particular, so I spoke at the Military Appreciation Days held in August each year at Frog Falls Aquatic Park, where I've also been a lifeguard each summer, and tried to 'talk up' the Teen Center whenever I could," Rickey said.
"It's so important for military youth especially to know that they have a place on post to hang out. There's always someone there to talk to, either a friend or one of the counselors, if you're upset about anything, like moving to a new place, like I was when my family moved here to New Jersey the summer before I started high school and didn't know anybody.
"Military youth grow up with a lot of stress in their lives: moving around all the time, having our parents be stressed, deployed, injured or even sometimes killed by their jobs, not having our own extended families around usually because we've moved to some state far away from them, and trying to fit into new schools every few years.
"It's a hard life, but one I wouldn't change since it's made me more outgoing, adaptable, and stronger," he said.
In February, Rickey was one of five Military Youth of the Year recipients to go to Atlanta (BGCA's headquarters) for one day to be part of a new marketing campaign. There, he was photographed and filmed for appearances on billboards and commercials to depict how Teen Centers help thousands of youngsters.
"I talked so much I was hoarse by the time I fly back to New Jersey that same night," Rickey said.
"I've learned a lot from being involved in the Teen Center: how to make new friends, how important it is to keep up your friendships when things get busy in high school with college prep pressure, jobs, and dating, and how we're all connected and dependent on one another in our communities," Rickey said.
"I've also learned from my Youth of the Year experience that the world is much bigger than Picatinny. We military kids think we have it rough, but there are kids struggling all over. The Youths of the Year that I met from urban centers have participants that deal with hunger, drug and alcohol abuse in their families and communities, and other hardships that stand in the way of achieving their potential."
Now 18, Rickey is a senior at Morris Hills High School in Rockaway with plans to attend the University of Maryland, College Park, to study physics.
Rickey hopes to participate in the first-year innovation and research experience, which gives students starting college an opportunity to conduct research and experiments as part of faculty members' projects.
"This is a great program for me because I'd like to earn a PhD in physics and one day do my own research," he said.
The Teen Center on Picatinny is open to all military youth, whether living on post or in a local residence off post.
Rickey said the BGCA wants to expand the reach of the Picatinny Teen Center to military youth living in Wharton, Rockaway, Denville, Jefferson, and other nearby locations. The Child and Youth Services staff can answer any questions families may have. A Picatinny Teen Center representative can be reached at 973-724-7183.