As a military-connected youth constantly on the move, Xavier felt apprehensive about forging new relationships. Visiting the teen center at his local Boys & Girls Club-affiliated Youth Center convinced him to step out and see himself in a new light.
As a military-connected youth , you’re always the “new kid.” It’s not a label you take on for a few months when you change schools, but an ongoing part of your identity.
Growing up, I lived the nomadic lifestyle of a kid with a parent in the military. It was my mom and me, moving around the world — which was equally exciting and exhausting. Each time we relocated, I went through the process of adapting to a new culture and forming new friendships, all with the possibility of my mom being deployed at any given moment.
As I grew older, the constant change took its toll on me. I was changing schools and leaving behind friendships every couple of years. It started to feel pointless, establishing roots in temporary places. I began to avoid forming lasting relationships or connections outside of my family because I realized I might never see those people again.
My mom left the military in my teen years and settled us in Clarksville, Tennessee. Our situation had changed but my habits were set — I continued to be a shy, quiet teen who disliked venturing outside of his comfort zone. I was uninterested in taking the initiative to interact with people I didn’t know.
When my mom decided to take me to my local teen center, I was first confused and then skeptical. Why did I need to go anywhere else but home after school? But she told me it was unique: a Boys & Girls Club-affiliated youth center for military-connected kids. A place where I could meet other teens who understood the experiences I had. Shy as I was, I decided to give it a shot.
My teen center proved to be a godsend.
When I walked into the Bastogne Teen Center, the energy and atmosphere instantly erased my nervousness.
Kids were participating in so many fun activities and everyone was genuinely having a good time. I saw a gym, computer lab, art room and video game area. I knew I would visit the gaming area first, which is where I met a kid my age named Jason. We had a lot in common right off the bat — from our love of video games to the fact that we rode the same school bus to school. Our friendship was sealed, and I began going to the teen center most days after school.
After years of feeling disconnected, my Youth Center was rejuvenating, providing a place to talk, play or go to a quiet space to finish my homework. The staff took an interest in me as a person, connecting me to activities and programs that grew my self-esteem, my hobbies and my skills. I’ll always remember the hours spent with Mr. Joe talking about our shared interests in anime, games, comics and movies. And Ms. Veronica helped me discover my inner leader by teaching me that my attentiveness and inquisitive nature were valuable skills to help me understand various perspectives.
Because my Youth Center served military-connected youth, I met kids of all different military family backgrounds and began to recognize my military-connected experience as a gift:
The more time I spent at my Youth Center, the more I developed a stable group of friends and an excellent support system. I became eager to talk to and show new kids around because I knew exactly how they felt. I jumped into every community service opportunity because I felt so much joy in helping my community.
And as I continued to participate at my Youth Center, I also began to understand what legacy I wanted to leave for military-connected youth like me.
When you’re a young person who’s experienced a significant change (whether it’s the nomadic life of a military-connected kid or challenges like loss or mental health concerns), it can feel impossible to start over. It can feel like you’re already too far behind, that this is just who you are now — a young person who will never catch up.
My Youth Center gave me access to the types of individualized support and resources I needed to succeed. Now, it’s my personal mission to do the same for generations of young people experiencing the stop-and-start of trying to stay on track academically.
While talking with my Youth Center mentor, Ms. Veronica, we created the idea for the Peer Academic Support System or P.A.S.S. Moving around created challenges for my education, but thanks to committed mentors and teachers, I was able to overcome those challenges with time and effort.
Seeing my grades get better empowered me to tutor teens at my Youth Center so that they could succeed at their educational goals, too. I learned so much from tutoring others, that I started to envision a program where youth could support their peers like I did, while acquiring community service hours and valuable leadership skills.
I have a lofty goal of getting P.A.S.S. into all the schools in Tennessee and eventually across the nation. Teens like me are looking for ways to become more engaged in their community, and incentives such as earning community service and credit hours which will help this program recruit teen mentors. And I also want to ensure P.A.S.S. teen tutors are confident in their ability to connect and engage with kids they may have never met before — skills I learned as a military-connected child.
My Youth Center helped me become the big brother role model I’d always wanted for myself. Now, with this teen tutoring program, I know I’m leaving my legacy for younger kids looking for guidance.
As for what’s next for me, I am currently in college and my plan is to join the Navy or the Air Force in a computer science role. I’d like to get a degree in cybersecurity because it is a field that pays well and is in high demand. I am interested in how the military is always investigating the future and what technology can do. I ultimately want to join the Space Force because of its technology focus, but they’re still in development. (I guess they’ll contact me later!)
Until then, I’ll continue growing and making connections, reminding military-connected youth everywhere that they’re far more than just the “new kid.”
Having a place to belong and someone who believes in you can have a powerful impact. Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year are a shining example of this and exemplify what it means to be a Boys & Girls Club kid. The Youth of the Year program wouldn’t be possible without Signature Sponsors Kohl’s & Toyota, and Marquee Sponsor Mondelez International, who share a dedication to providing better tomorrows for young people. Learn more about Xavier B. and the Youth of the Year program and join us in opening doors to great futures for millions of youth.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides caring adult mentors and life-shaping programs to millions of kids and teens each year. In safe, inclusive places, youth build the skills and resilience to thrive in school, the workplace and in life. Join us on our mission of helping all young people reach their full potential: