By Lauren Finnegan, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Garrison Public AffairsJuly 24, 2019
JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. -- When Joint Base Lewis-McChord youth, Christian Ashford, saw the great strides his friend and 2018 Pacific Military Youth of the Year, Katie Wilcox, was making in her fight to combat homelessness -- he knew he wanted to follow in her footsteps and make a difference.
Now a year later, Ashford has done that -- not only making a difference with his campaign to combat teen bullying -- but with his win at the 2019 Boys & Girls Club of America Pacific Military Youth of the Year celebration in San Diego July 11.
"I was in complete shock when I heard them call my name," Ashford said about his win. "It was one of the most impactful moments of my life so far, and it was an amazing experience."
To make it to regionals, Ashford had to compete in and win the JBLM Military Youth of the Year as well as the Washington State Military Youth of the Year competitions. Each round consisted of a written essay, speech and an interview focused on how they're making an impact among their peers.
Ashford's impact has been his commitment to end teen bullying.
The idea for this initiative came to him during a conversation with a peer while at the Hillside Youth Center and Teen Zone on JBLM where he is a member of the Boys & Girls Club.
"One of the (club members) was acknowledging that bullying was a problem in their school and I really took inspiration from the conversation," Ashford said. "I took it upon myself to start the Bully Proof initiative and create the Bully Box. If there's something that (students) need to report or they saw bullying, but they weren't comfortable talking to the teachers about, they can now write it down and put it in the box."
Charissa Lizama, program specialist for the Hillside Youth Center, said that the Bully Box is having a positive effect on the teens at the center.
"We want the kids that are being bullied to say something and to have their own voice," Lizama said. "Today when I peaked in, there were about 10 notes which will help us to stop (the bullying). This is the perfect thing that we need in here."
Ashford also does speaking engagements for elementary school aged children in an attempt to stop bullying before it starts. At each event, he hands out Bully Survival Kits which include resources, tips and treats to help the children remember the event.
"After my first speech, I realized I needed something to stick with the kids other than just talking to them," Ashford said. "I needed something that they'll remember after I leave. So I came up with tips like, 'Don't be a Dum-Dum, bullying is not smart.' 'Be a Smartie, don't bully,' and included those candies to go along with it."
Ashford will be traveling to Washington D.C., Aug. 12 where he will compete in the 2019 National Youth of the Year competition. If he wins, he plans to elevate his campaign to the national level as well.
"If I win National Military Youth of the Year, I'm going to spread the Bully Boxes to all the military affiliated Boys and Girls Clubs across the nation."