FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - The Fort Campbell Bastogne Teen Center is the second in the Defense Department to receive one of five $50,000 van grants as participants in the Bridgestone/Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) “Driving Great Futures” program.
This grant will help Bastogne Teen Center youth get to and from on- and off-post activities including volunteer opportunities and social events. Their enhanced mobility widens the range of opportunities for participating in meaningful activities that promote growth and development.
The van was presented before a large gathering of more than 150 participants, including Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation team, U.S. Fort Campbell Garrison leadership, distinguished representatives from BGCA, Bridgestone Tire, and the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, in addition to BTC Youth, their families, and staff, Aug. 24.
U.S. Army Garrison Fort Campbell Commander Col. Christopher Midberry took the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of Xavier Branch, a member with the Fort Campbell Bastogne Teen Center, who recently secured the esteemed title of Boys & Girls Clubs of America's 2023 National Military Youth of the Year.
“Xavier Branch is an outstanding young man. He represents the best of our community, the best of what this teen center does and what they can accomplish … and is an outstanding role model,” Midberry said.
Branch was selected among five outstanding regional finalists from Boys & Girls Clubs of America military-affiliated youth centers throughout the world and was selected National Military Youth of the Year during a ceremony held in Washington, D.C. in August.
Jim Clark, President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, highlighted the significance of Branch’s achievement.
"Our National Military Youth of the Year title is reserved for a young person who demonstrates outstanding commitment to character, leadership, and service in and around their installations and youth center," Clark said. “Xavier is a shining example of the impact of our mission and the opportunities it ignites for young people in military communities, and we are so proud to recognize him with this honor.”
Branch’s upbringing in military-affiliated communities has instilled in him a deep appreciation for diversity, equity, and inclusion. His ability to see the positives in challenging situations showcases his resiliency and growth.
From Branch's tentative first steps into the youth center, he encountered an atmosphere bursting with positivity and enthusiasm. Under the guidance of the youth center staff, he developed vital social skills, stepped out of his comfort zone, and uncovered his potential for leadership.
"The staff at my youth center have helped me tremendously in developing my social skills and my willingness to venture out of my comfort zone to try new things. And eventually they even convinced me that I possess the leadership qualities it takes to become the voice of my peers. I always listen to people with great attention and sincerity, but I never thought of this quality as something that could catapult me all the way to the National Military Youth of the Year stage. Having people who believe in you, encourage you, and push you like the staff at my youth center have done for me... makes you realize anything is attainable!"
Engaging in initiatives such as Keystone Club, Torch Club, Gardening Club, and Journalism Club, Branch unearthed his voice and calling within the Fort Campbell community. His path embodies the essence of Boys & Girls Clubs of America's dedication to fostering the potential of youth in military communities.
“My youth center has taught me that you may not always agree with someone, but we all have the right to use our voices. This has prompted me to become a more active member in my community and to show the world what us military-connected teens are capable of! The opportunities and skills that I have gained since becoming a member of my youth center have helped me realize how vital volunteerism and supporting your community is, and that we young people can be instrumental simply by lending a helping hand. Together, we can explore new solutions to our communities’ diverse needs.”
Before achieving this remarkable recognition, Branch had already secured $22,500 in college scholarships awarded during the state and regional segments of the Military Youth of the Year program. The distinction of being named National Military Youth of the Year brings an extra $20,000 for his college pursuits, combining to form a scholarship amount of $42,500.
Come October 5th, Branch will unite with five fellow finalists in New York, participating in the National Youth of the Year celebration where they will compete for the prestigious title. Should Branch secure the National Youth of the Year honor, he'll earn an extra $50,000 scholarship, a brand-new Toyota Corolla, and the chance to represent Boys & Girls Clubs of America as a spokesperson, advocating for 3.3 million club and youth center kids and teens.
“It feels less like a title and more like a torch being passed down that I can hopefully give to someone else in my place,” Branch said. “I am not just representing military youth when I go to the competition in October, I am representing all youth. I want them to understand that I am not just advocating for my teen center, but for teen centers around the nation.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of America has celebrated exceptional young leaders through its Youth of the Year program for more than 75 years, honoring their achievements in leadership, service, academic excellence, and dedication to a healthy lifestyle.
For more information about Youth of the Year, visit www.youthoftheyear.org.