By Devon L. SuitsAugust 27, 2018
WASHINGTON -- Two Army teenagers were honored as regional winners and runners-up during this year's Boys & Girls Clubs of America's National Military Youth of the Year celebration.
Brandon Clay, from the Fort Knox Child and Youth Services in Kentucky, was selected as this year's Midwest region representative. Katherine "Katie" Wilton was the Pacific region selectee, representing the Child and Youth Services at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
Navy teen, Ryan W. was selected as the 2018 Military Child of the Year at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Aug. 23. Ryan was the Overseas Military Youth of the Year selected and nominated from the Navy's Child and Youth Program in Singapore.
In 2017, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America awarded more than $1,000,000 in grant money in support of Army youth programs. The BGCA serves more than 132,000 registered members annually at Army installations worldwide, according to Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, the assistant chief of staff for installation management, or ACSIM.
Bingham spoke with the six regional recipients at a VIP event held in the Pentagon conference center on Aug 23.
"We have 82 Army youth centers that are spread out all around the globe and [that] just gives you a feel for the scope and scale of these programs," Bingham said. "Every single day, our youth have the opportunity to enter one of these youth centers ... and they are welcomed by trained and caring professionals. So we're very proud of our youth programs which allow our youth to have a place to go and a place to be safe and to thrive."
Moving forward, the BGCA is in the process of implementing science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, centers at military installations throughout the U.S. The "Centers of Innovation" will provide access to advanced technologies, including 3-D printers, robotics, and high-definition video production and conferencing equipment, according to BGCA officials.
Fort Gordon, Georgia, and Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, were selected to be the newest locations for BGCA's Centers of Innovation, Bingham said.
"Ultimately, these young people will become America's generation of leaders and innovators, and we feel so good about that," Bingham said. "These installations were awarded $45,000 in grant money to promote STEM programming, to encourage participation by women in STEM, and to raise awareness about STEM careers."
THE MILITARY YOUTH OF THE YEAR PROGRAM
Since 1947, the BGCA Youth of the Year program has been recognizing young people from the ages of 14 to 18 for their commitment to serving the community, academic success, and overall good character and citizenship, according to program officials.
In 2013 the program expanded to incorporate a military-specific Youth of the Year program. The Boys & Girls Club's military youth program recognizes outstanding teens that serve in BGCA-affiliated youth centers on military installations worldwide.
The military youth program is highly competitive as it incorporates a local and state selection process, culminating in six regional selectees, officials said. The three other regional representatives include:
- Kah'ron C., the Northeast Military Youth of the Year stationed at New London Naval Submarine Base, Connecticut.
- Janasia U., the Southeast Military Youth of the Year from Naval Station Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Virginia
- Erynn R., the Southwest Military Youth of the Year, nominated from the Kirtland Air Force Base Youth Program, New Mexico
"It is such an honor. The fact that there are people here that see potential in me and they know that I'm a good leader and they want me to move forward, it just means so much," Katie said about being selected as the Pacific region representative. "It gives me so much confidence in myself and what I'm going to do in the future. I love it."
All the region winners receive a $10,000 college scholarship, renewable for four years up to $40,000.
As the 2018 Military Child of the Years selectee, Ryan will also receive an additional $20,000 scholarship. More importantly, Ryan serves as the voice for military children around the globe, according to event officials.
In the coming months, Ryan will join the other regional Youth of the Year winners, from non-military Boys & Girls Clubs, to vie for the programs top honor: The 2018 National Youth of the Year.
BRANDON CLAY -- FORT KNOX
Brandon was the first to admit that his quiet and shy personality often prevented him from stepping out of his comfort zone. He recalled memories of himself sitting alone during middle school lunch hour, lacking the confidence to connect with his peers.
All of that changed after Brandon joined a BGCA-affiliated youth center.
"The Boys and Girls Club has taught me that it is okay to be yourself, and you shouldn't be afraid to be different," Brandon said. "The staff at my center encouraged me to become more involved in the BGCA. Eventually, I became more open, and I started to make new friends. I also become more outgoing. That was my benefit through all of this, and it helped me develop and become a leader."
With a new found confidence, and as the Midwest Military Youth of the Year, Brandon is driven to decrease bullying-related suicides among youth, as well as cultivate inclusive environments for LGTBQ youth, according to BGCA officials.
"Thoughts of suicide currently affect more than 20 percent of today's youth," Brandon said during his speech at the Pentagon VIP event. "My vision for America's youth is to shed light on the negative impacts of bullying and to lower the rate of bullying-related suicides among our nation's youth. It is my belief that we can achieve this goal by encouraging diversity and building tolerance in our youth centers. I plan to incorporate bullying prevention and suicide awareness into the Boys and Girls Clubs' Smart Moves program, thus giving my vision a national platform."
As he enters into his final year of high school, the young professional also maintains a 4.0-grade point average. Brandon hopes one day to attend Northwestern University to get his degree in education and environmental science.
KATIE WILTON -- JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD
The life of a military child is ever changing -- but overcoming adversity is key to building strength and resiliency, Katie said.
Speaking from her own experience, Katie had to overcome adversity when she was forced to relocate during her freshman year of high school. To make matters worse, Katie's father was temporarily separated from the family while he finished his degree.
For a while, Katie and her mother were doing fine until the floor was pulled out from under them -- Katie's mom got diagnosed with cancer.
"My mother was the rock of our family, and this shook our foundation. Not only do we face the battle with cancer, but we also had a hard time navigating life in a new place. This was our third time moving, which is not unusual for military families -- still, I was angry. There are times when your problems pile up and it feels like they're punching you down all at once," Katie said during her speech.
Instead of breaking to the pressure, Katie chose to face her problems head on. And she didn't do it alone, she said, as Katie found help and support through the JBLM youth center.
"My youth center has changed my perspective. I didn't know any military children at my school, and it was hard. But when I went to my youth center with other military kids, we just had this connection," Katie said. "So even when you change homes, youth centers provide that stability. Military kids should always know that they are there for you."
Things were shaping up for Katie, she said. Her father rejoined the family and her mother underwent treatments and is now cancer-free.
Moreover, Katie became more involved with the BGCA. She served as the president of her Keystone Club and was elected to serve as her high school's student body president two years in a row. Katie's goal is to attend Columbia University and become a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon.
Furthermore, Katie remains passionate about helping the homeless children in her community and will continue to support her cause as her region's Military Youth of the Year.
"My vision is to tackle the issue of access to resources and education for these teens. I hope to provide them with the means to reach their goals," Katie said. "All children deserve a chance to succeed. When you're on the streets, you automatically have a disadvantage. That's not fair for any child."