April is the Month of the Military Child, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) is proud to salute these amazing young people. Nearly two million American kids and teens have at least one parent serving in the U.S. Armed Services, and this month invites us all to acknowledge their selflessness and sacrifices.
BGCA has proudly partnered with the Department of Defense, U.S. Armed Services and the Coast Guard since 1991, doing whatever it takes to serve military-connected youth and their families with safe places and life-shaping programs.
Today, over 470 BGCA-affiliated Youth Centers serve 250,000 + youth on U.S. military installations around the globe. And because military-connected youth don’t just reside on base, Boys & Girls Clubs serve an additional 30,000 youth in military families in local communities nationwide.
Youth Centers provide fun, friendship and skill-building experiences – but most importantly, they provide a community that military-connected youth can count on. Many military-connected youth experience a childhood full of change but attest their Youth Center remains a constant.
This year is extra special as we mark the 10th anniversary of our partnership’s Military Youth of the Year program, which honors the character and leadership of military-connected Club members served on- and off- installation.
To celebrate, we asked seven National Military Youth of the Year winners to share their Club Experiences and what growing up in a military family means to them.
Natalia L., 28 years old, 2014 National Military Youth of the Year
- Club/Organization: USAG Wiesbaden CYS Services
- Length of Membership: 3 years
- College: Vanderbilt University, bachelor's in communication and German; minor in corporate strategy
- Current Employer: DoD Civilian Military Police Officer, Yuma Proving Grounds Base in Yuma, AZ
“The insight I hope people gain when it comes to being a military-connected youth is that there is no one glove that fits all people. Each experience and family situation are unique from child to child. We may move around a lot, or not. We may have parents that are deployed constantly, or never at all. We may never leave the United States, or we may have grown up predominantly overseas.
However, this shared experience of uniqueness is precisely the bond that ties us all together. When I meet other military-connected young people or adults that grew up in military families, there is a kinship that exists regardless of how different or similar our individual experiences were. We share an inherent, underlying understanding of each other. It's in the way that we communicate. It’s in our sense of humor. It's in how we go about making friends. It's in how we navigate relationships with family and romantic partners. It's in the joys and pains that being resilient and adaptable demands of us.
These are the bonds that go deeper than the variation of external circumstances and what makes us special and connected to each other.”
RianSimone H., 26 years old, 2015 National Military Youth of the Year
- Club/Organization: Vogelweh Youth Program and Kadena Air Base Youth Program
- Length of Membership: 11 years
- College: Syracuse University, PhD student
- Career Interest: Sociology
“Growing up as a military-connected kid, you have the unique opportunity of being immersed in an ever-changing community. Given the nature of the military, the environment around you constantly changes, with familiar faces leaving and new faces arriving. Each person arrives from who knows where, bringing their own set of experiences. While their experiences might align with yours in some ways, they are also distinct in ways that teach you something new. If you think about it, military-connected youth experience the world through the communities around them. Not only did I have the opportunity to live on four different continents growing up, but my peers and mentors also shared bits of their worlds with me, too.
I attended a Youth Center in Okinawa, Japan that gave me my passion for art. My Youth Center in Germany is where I was able to participate in the Youth of the Year program. Now, as an adult, I love meeting new people and truly believe that I learn from each new connection made. I have my military-connected communities to thank for instilling in me an openness to new faces and a curiosity for learning from those around me.”
Kaila L., 24 years old, 2017 National Military Youth of the Year
- Club/Organization: Hill Air Force Base Youth Program
- Length of Membership: 4 years
- College: 2022 Graduate of Weber State University, bachelor’s degree, Environmental Science; minors in Botany and Microbiology
- Current Employer: CALSTART, national nonprofit dedicated to clean transportation
“What growing up as a military-connected youth means to me has continued to change in the five years since becoming a Club alumna and going through the Youth of the Year process. Above all else, it showed me that I have a responsibility to educate myself about global cultures and be intentional about listening to voices that are different from my own. It gave me the opportunity to find power for change within myself and to create a strong vision for the sense of character I want to work towards. It showed me that connections can be found wherever you are and that all of us are closer than we think.”
Dasia B., 20 years old, 2019 National Military Youth of the Year
- Club/Organization: Norfolk Naval Shipyard Youth Center
- Length of Membership: 12 years
- College: George Washington University, Junior
- Career Interest: International Affairs
- Current Employer: Elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the District of Columbia, Freelance writer for Parents Magazine
“I wish people understood that not all military-connected youth move around all the time. Everyone’s youth experience is unique. However, what unites all military-connected youth is the ability to be resilient.”
Bethany C., 21 years old, 2020 National Military Youth of the Year
- Club/Organization: Kirtland Air Force Base Youth Program
- Length of Membership: 4 years
- College: New Mexico State University, Junior
- Career Interest: Criminal Justice and Mechanical Engineering
“I love my military-connected community and the Kirtland Air Force Base Youth Center where I belonged. I owe so much of my personal and professional success to the staff there. One thing I wish people understood about military-connected youth is how the friendships we make in our communities truly last a lifetime, regardless of the paths we take and the distances that may come between us.
The environments we grew up in teach us to care for each other and cherish each other. Some of my best friends are those I have met through the Youth Centers and the Military Youth of the Year program. These friendships become our lifelong support systems. Happy Month of the Military Child and don’t forget to Purple Up!”
Victor O., 20 years old, 2021 National Military Youth of the Year
- Club/Organization: Joint Base MDL – Ft. Dix Youth Program
- Length of Membership: 10 years
- College: Ramapo College of New Jersey, Sophomore
- Career Interest: Law
“There is so much to be said about the military community and how it quite literally changed my life. The first thing I would note in my experience as a military-connected youth is that everyone is very welcoming. When I first walked through the doors of my Youth Center, the atmosphere was very inviting and over the many years that I have been a member, my Youth Center always felt like a safe space for me to learn and grow.
I feel like there is a certain stereotype around military-connected youth in terms of character and that our decisions or life choices are not our own, but that is not always true. The military community feels like family to me, and I would not trade them for the world. We uplift, encourage, and support each other's dreams and aspirations as we learn and grow together within our tight-knit communities.
I genuinely love the relationships I've made, Clubs and Youth Centers I attended and, above all, the character-building that helped me become the man I am today. Because of the support from my communities, I am now a sophomore at Ramapo College of New Jersey studying law!”
Ahsha B., 19 years old, 2022 National Military Youth of the Year
- Club/Organization: Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base
- Length of Membership: 4 years
- College: Regent University, Freshman
- Career Interest: Marketing, Communications, Motivational Speaking
“There are so many diverse faces and unique qualities that represent military-connected teens, and I am so proud to be one of them! One of the biggest things that I feel is important for people to know about military-connected teens is that our journeys turn us into some of the most well-rounded people you’ll ever come across. We face struggles that are unfamiliar to many and have the opportunity to learn and grow to understand so many cultures, languages and opinions on an international scale. We not only represent the diversity of our world; we represent unity, justice and the strength of our country.
I also believe that military-connected teens need more encouragement to speak up for mental health and therapy. Growing up in military-connected communities, I noticed the stigma of living in a culture that promoted ‘tough love’ and ‘sticking it out’ instead of talking about our feelings. That's why it's so important to encourage continued advocacy toward therapy and speaking out for mental health support.”
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Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides safe places, caring mentors and life-enhancing programs to millions of kids and teens annually. For over 30 years, we have proudly supported youth and their families serving in the U.S. Armed Services on their paths to leadership and success. Join us on our mission of helping all young people reach their full potential: