Grace B., 2021-2022 Asia Military Youth of the Year, shares how her military community and Youth Center became a second family when she needed it most – when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted her senior year.
My experience as a child of the military has helped shape who I am today.
Unlike many military kids and teens, I’ve had the experience of living in one place – I was born and raised in Aussie, Japan. My father served in the military for 24 years on Active Service and the Reserves, and my mother is an English teacher for Japanese students.
Because I attended Japanese school early on, I wasn’t as connected to the military community. But in my middle and high school years – and especially when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived right in time for my senior year – I found out exactly how vibrant and strong this community can be.
When I began attending the Department of Defense Education Activity school in seventh grade, it was my first time getting a real-life picture of how the military system, lifestyle and families really work.
Classmates shared stories about the difficulties of moving every few years, but there were few stories like my own – families that stayed in one location, embracing and adapting to a new culture.
As I began to make friends, I had to constantly prepare myself to say goodbye too soon – a mindset that is the norm for a military child. Our conversations always included the same questions: “where have you lived?” and “how long are you going to stay here?”
Although being a military child means you will most likely have more goodbyes, the best part is how incredible the community truly is – a community that understands the unique experience we’re going through.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began turning my world and everyone else’s upside down in 2020, I told myself I wouldn’t let it take away my senior year. I started focusing on the “now” rather than the future.
I joined the Camp Zama Youth Center. My Youth Center helped me understand that everyone is going through the same things – from personal struggles to pandemic stress, to military family experiences.
The Center’s teen leadership program, Keystone Club, welcomed me with open arms and I began volunteering and co-leading events that helped the military kids in our community feel some connection and normalcy during a challenging year.
Working through strict COVID-19 safety protocols, we held a Halloween haunted house, a lock-in and various donation drives. My favorite event was the “Teen Town Hall” where the Youth Center staff, community leaders and teens discussed mental health, relationships and beauty standards – everyone opened up and shared how they were feeling.
Slowly, I focused less and less on the many goodbyes of military life – and more and more on becoming part of a family.
My experience with the Youth of the Year program has taught me the most important lesson this year – to always try new things and keep an open mind for everything. Before participating (and going on to be named the Asia Military Youth of the Year), I would never go outside of my comfort zone, but this incredible experience has made me stronger. With my senior year not being what I’d expected, I am so thankful my Boys & Girls Club-affiliated Youth Center gave me that push to make my year challenging and to gain confidence in myself.
Especially throughout the pandemic, our community has never been so close and supportive of each other. It made a sorrowful year superior, and overall, my senior year taught me the importance of how valuable my actions can be.
If you want something, you have to decide whether to act on it or not. Luckily I acted on it, and I had by far one of the best years of my life.
As I started college this fall, it was heartbreaking to leave my amazing community, but I plan on using all the advice I have received from my family, teachers, Youth Center staff and my peers as a tool to make my future experiences count toward something.
The life of a military child is difficult at times, but with kindhearted people around, it makes the experience unforgettable. I would not want it any other way.
Learn more about how Boys & Girls Clubs of America partners with the U.S. Military to help military-connected youth on- and off-installation find caring mentors and life-enhancing programs.