Fort Johnson youth wins Boys, Girls Club Louisiana Military Youth of Year

By Angie ThorneMay 8, 2024

Fort Johnson youth wins Boys, Girls Club Louisiana military youth of year
Emmalee Polk is the 2024 Louisiana Military Youth of the Year. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT JOHNSON, La. — Emmalee Polk attended the Louisiana Youth of the Year Event in Baton Rouge April 11-13. She represented the Fort Johnson Middle School and Teen Center and the Boys and Girls Club of America. Polk won the title of Louisiana Military Youth of the Year for 2024 and a $10,000 scholarship. 

Being named Youth of the Year is the highest honor a Boys and Girls Club member can receive. It recognizes outstanding contributions to a member’s family, school, community and Boys and Girls Club, as well as their ability to overcome personal challenges and obstacles.

As part of competing for Military Youth of the Year, Polk showcased her communication, leadership and resilience skills by completing several essays, developing a speech and undergoing a variety of questions from a panel of judge's on her way to winning her new title. Surrounded by nearly 100 of her peers, she delivered a speech depicting her life as a military youth and the struggles she has had to overcome throughout her life. 

Heather Owens, Child and Youth Services program operations specialist for Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said Polk represented Fort Johnson wonderfully.

“As Youth of the Year, she is an ambassador showcasing the values of leadership, service, academic excellence and healthy lifestyles,” Owens said.

Emmalee loves being part of The Boys and Girls Club.

“It’s a neat experience. Before I joined I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but I found myself enjoying being part of something bigger than myself, she said. “I found that what I said really mattered and that was important to me.”

Emmalee also loves the community she finds by being part of the club.

“I like the things we do and being friends with other kids like me,” Emmalee said. “It’s given me so many opportunities that I know I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

One of those opportunities turned out to be the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year competition. However, it wasn’t one Emmalee was focused on originally.

The idea of her competing began when she attended the Army Teen Panel (a way for military teens to gather and brainstorm solutions to challenges for military teens) in the summer of 2023.

She got to be friends with a lot of previous Boys and Girls Club Youth winners at the event and they encouraged her to compete. She said wasn’t sure about it at first.

Her thought process centered around, “That could never be me.” But as time went on it changed to, “Why can’t that be me?”

“The more I got to know the people who had already won, I realized they weren’t that different than me and if they could so it, I could too,” Emmalee said.

In the end, she to try, but wasn’t an easy task.

“It was a lot of sitting down and focusing in on the things I wanted to say through the essays and three minute speech I had to write,” Emmalee said. “I had never done any kind of public speaking, so it was a little nerve-racking to speak to a panel of three judges and then speak in front of everyone attending the event.”

What she has learned from competing in this event is the importance of the military community.

“Having them support me through this process and what I was trying to do was amazing,” Emmalee said. “It’s all about the military Family and I felt like it was important to highlight them and everything they do.”

After she won, Emmalee said it felt really good when all that hard work paid off.

“It felt great to get that win and represent all the military youth of Louisiana,” she said.

It’s probably not a surprise that her dad, Lt. Col. James Polk, 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment commander, thinks she’s amazing. 

“Her experiences, challenges, and exposure growing up as a military child really helped shape her into the strong, resilient, independent young lady she has grown into. It gives me comfort to know she is well equipped to handle just about anything in her adult life as she moves on to college and her career in the coming years,” Polk said. “Additionally, I think her background as a military child gives her the confidence to navigate the unknown with ease, make friends quickly and immerse herself into diverse groups of people while being comfortable with who she is and what she has to contribute.”

Polk is I proud of her accomplishment in winning the Boys and Girls Club title because it’s an opportunity for her to represent an often overlooked demographic, the military child.

“But I’m also proud of her ability to balance all of her other requirements — getting good grades, committing time to extracurricular activities and working several days a week at the commissary,” he said. “With all of that, she still found the time and put forth the effort to prepare and compete for this event.”  

Emmalee encourages other military youth to get involved with The Boys and Girls Club.

“It’s a home away from home. It’s not just about the opportunities they offer, but the friendships they will make,” she said.

She also wants to just encourage other military kids that may be having a hard time.

“Being a military child is worth all the difficulties you will face,” Emmalee said. “You just have to find your support group, the people you can really connect with, no matter who they are or if they are temporary or not. We move around a lot, but you should never be afraid to reach out to your community to interact and support them because you will get that support right back.”

Emmalee will soon be headed to Atlanta, Georgia, for the Southeast regional competition May14-16. If she wins there, she will receive a scholarship worth $20,000.