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For Jamal Braxton, 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award recipient for the U.S. Air Force, and future U. S. Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, is always ready for a challenge . It begins with an unshakeable belief that there is always something that can be done, whether through service to others or endless compassion.

This empathy for others, to be fully engaged, also drives Jamal to serve others. Both at home and abroad, Jamal has been active in and outside of the base gates. In the U.S. and overseas, he has championed the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy, which purchases new eyeglasses for U.S. residents and distributes used eyeglasses to the disadvantaged in developing countries. In the current school year alone, Jamal has obtained 160 eyeglasses and 70 lenses for the nonprofit.

In addition to enduring the relocations and deployments of his father, Jamal has also known loss. Two of his school-age friends have passed too young, one to an auto accident and the other to a seizure. These experiences have driven him to embrace all that life has to offer while compelling him to give back and encouraging and supporting others to do the same.

While he acknowledges the obstacles inherent to military life, Jamal is poetic in describing the positive experiences he has had, particularly when describing the family’s time in Japan. “I personally loved living in Japan, because although they’re modern they appreciate nature to its fullest,” said Jamal. “Japan has shown me how to truly appreciate nature from their breath-taking scenery and by holding festivals like the Cherry Blossoms Festival and Hanami both appreciating the beauty of flowers.”

He has also been extremely active with the Red Cross at home and during his time in Germany. In these capacities, Jamal oversees monthly veteran house visits, youth group and leadership group meetings, numerous activities related to the armed forces, the recruitment of future Red Cross Youth Services leaders, and numerous fundraisers, including the International Measles & Rubella Initiative fundraiser.

He said his time with the Red Cross has fueled his aspiration to be a neurosurgeon one day. “I have always had an interest in the function of the brain and its amazing abilities from simple tasks like our five senses to language comprehension,” said Jamal. “So, my passion for the brain and the wanting to help others has steered me to the field of Neurology.” He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law.

Jamal doesn’t stop there. He is a varsity athlete in swimming, track and field and cross country, active in Scouting, and has a job as a lifeguard.

Jamal is the son of Master Sgt. Lawrence Braxton and Ahllam Braxton of Hill AFB, UT. With all he has accomplished to date, the sky is the limit for this young man.

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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Molly Frey faces her fears with fervor. Our 2017 National Guard Military Child of the Year said she first felt the impact of being a military kid when her dad, Senior Master Sergeant Kim Frey (ret), deployed to Iraq for the first time.

“This growing sadness and worry I developed was very difficult to explain to my school friends.Most children without a military background don’t understand deployment, and how it affects a family. He was a half a world away, and there was nothing we could do about it,” reflected Molly.

But that wasn’t all. Through her father’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Molly also faced the military demands facing her mother, Senior Master Sergeant Renee Frey, who serves in the Air National Guard. At times, she was without both parents

But Molly didn’t shrink back in fear…she let it serve as her motivation to excel in life. “I never let my grades slip, nor did I ever let his deployments stop me from accomplishing many things. I started Tribute to the Troops (an ice skating event in her area of Ohio) in honor of my father and to all the military. I took what is difficult for children to handle and used it to bounce back and give back to the military community,” said Molly.

On top of all of this, Molly was still able to maintain academic excellence, keep a 4.0 or higher..

“I have NEVER seen anyone her age exhibit the dedication she does to everything,” said Molly’s supervisor when she was an assistant sailing instructor at Leatherlips Yacht Club’s children’s camp. “On windy days, I have seen her rescue 20 capsized boats and be so tired that I had to lift her into the pontoon boat, just to watch her dive off again to rescue another. She would take charge of the students during boat rigging time to ensure that everything was done correctly.  Molly is a remarkable young lady.”

Molly’s favorite saying is by author Suzy Kassem,   “Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”  She says it reminds her when she wants to try something new or if something scares her, to push herself to do it.

She’s received the President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence twice. In a letter to Molly, ,   President Barack Obama wrote, “Students like you will chart the course of our country’s unwritten history, and I commend you for setting a powerful example for all young Americans.”

Molly also raised funds and participated for five years in Skate for Hope accumulating over $6,000 for Breast Cancer Research. Molly served in the leadership group “Students Serving Students (S3)” designed to improve character, school climate, organize events and an anti-bullying group to formulate ideas to prevent bullying in school. Molly has also performed in the professional Columbus Ohio BalletMet Nutcracker three years. She was selected as 2012 Miss Greene Countrie Towne Junior Miss to be involved in community events.

She also plays the piano, golfs, and figure skates.  She also finds time to volunteer at her local hospital allowing her to shadow medical personnel, because she is determined to be a cardio thoracic heart surgeon.

No doubt, Molly will make a way!

 

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

 

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At the age of 11, Sophie Bernstein asked her parents to start a garden. Her parents, Navy Reserves Capt. Brad Bernstein and Moira Bernstein, initially dismissed the request. Perhaps they thought the work of planting, weeding and harvesting would ultimately fall on them. Or maybe they envisioned a sad overgrown mess, due to neglect.

But Sophie persisted, and they gave in. Now 17 years old, Sophie’s green thumb grew into a remarkable bounty, not only for her family but also for hundreds of others in her community.

“When I explained to my parents that I would oversee all the garden tasks and that I wanted to donate the vegetables I grew to a food bank, they agreed to let me grow my first raised vegetable garden bed in 2012. For the past four years, I have expanded my project to 22 gardens at low-income preschools, daycares and emergency shelters for children in the metropolitan St. Louis region.”

For that extraordinary effort, she’s been chosen to receive Operation Homefront’s 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton.

So far, Sophie has donated more than 13,570 pounds of produce to local food banks and to families in need. Sophie’s innovation has raised awareness of childhood hunger in the community, and it has increased the volume of fresh and healthy produce available at food banks and at child care facilities.

Sophie believes that everyone can make an impact and a difference in improving the world at any age, at any time. Her favorite quote from Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” reminds her that Anne was only a teenager when she wrote a book that would have a huge impact on the world.

“Too often we underestimate the impact a simple gesture can have in another,” said Sophie.
Sophie’s project has been a hands-on learning lab for children, as she has led 225 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) botany and plant science workshops for young children throughout the year. In the process, students at low-income preschools are engaged in building, planting and maintaining produce gardens.

But she didn’t stop there. Sophie and her siblings started a website called http://www.volunteennation.org/ to engage youth throughout the nation in service. Using social media, they try to activate and mobilize youth in service. So far, they have recruited 785 teen volunteers from area high schools to help with the gardens and with the plant science workshops.

Sophie exemplifies the passion and resilience seen in so many military kids. Her family’s legacy of military service not only includes her dad, but also her sister serves in the Navy and both of her grandfathers were active in the Air Force and Army.

As part of the Award for Innovation, Sophie will receive a mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance her gardening and service projects. We can’t wait to see where Sophie’s passion to help others will take her next!

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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Scholar. Mentor. World Class Athlete.

There does not appear to be much that Mary Kate Cooper cannot do when she sets her mind to it. She embodies a “can-do” spirit that not only propels her towards excellence but lifts the spirits of those around her

“One thing I learned in life is you cannot control the situations you face, but you can control how you react to them,” she writes.

Mary Kate is a below-the-knee amputee from birth who has only known life with a prosthetic leg.

But rather than limit her, Mary Kate pushes those limits. Breaks them. She sets the bar high, reaches it, and then sets it even higher.

In addition to maintain a weighted 4.7 GPA in accelerated coursework, Mary Kate still finds time to mentor other children with disabilities while competing athletically at the highest levels of Paralympic sport. In addition to earning All-American High School status in track and field from the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Olympic Committee, Mary Kate has become a top swimmer, competing on the international level in the Can-Am Swimming Open and she was one of the few athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport. In her best swimming event, she finished 2016 ranked 36th in the world. Mary Kate also actively volunteers to mentor numerous other junior amputees, and she was recognized for her efforts with the Spirit of Excellence Award at the National Junior Disability Championship.

About life as a military child, Mary Kate writes, “Being a Military Kid is a very unique opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have been able to travel and meet amazing people all over the country. Additionally, being part of the military is like being part of a family, everyone has each other’s back.”

“I can only speak for myself, and I have been very lucky to have met kind, supportive people wherever we have been stationed. I do believe it’s important for all Americans to recognize, that in addition to the active duty member that serves, the entire family makes a commitment and sacrifices as well.”

Mary Kate credits her parents, Captain Thomas Cooper and Lynn Cooper, for teaching her to never give up. “We are very close because of all the moves we have done. No matter how I am feeling I can always count on my family to be there and cheer me up.”

As is her way, Mary Kate thinks of others when discussing the honor of representing the Coast Guard as Military Child of The Year ® “I think everyone goes through hard times and you could find a reason to give every military child an award. Overall, I am excited and honored to have been chosen to represent the United States Coast Guard.”

 

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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It would not surprise anyone who knows Alexander McGrath that his favorite quote is from the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

“In a democracy, the most important office is the office of citizen.”

Alexander, our Military Child of the Year ® 2017 for the U.S. Navy shares why this quote motivates him. “This quote is powerful to me as it is a reminder of the vital importance of citizenship,” Alexander writes. “As a member of a military family, I am aware of the costs of freedom. This makes the quote especially important as it speaks to the importance of being active in your community and taking seriously the responsibilities which go along with citizenship.”

He continues, “I feel a very deep connection to this country. It also gives me a sense of responsibility to work to better my community, as I appreciate the things which our service members do and the sacrifices they and their families have made. Out of appreciation for the sacrifices of my father and countless other service members, I feel both a sense of pride and a responsibility to make the most of the freedoms, liberties and opportunities afforded to us in this country.”

Though he is not even eligible to vote yet, this incredible young man has taken the idea of service to others to heart. Already, this senior from Severna Park, MD High School has established a laudable track record of influencing public policy in the state of Maryland.

As a legislative aide to the assistant majority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, Alexander helped craft police reform and juvenile justice agendas. As first vice president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, which represents more than 80,000 county students at all levels of government, Alexander organized 700 students to lobby in favor of three education reform bills that would come before the Maryland General Assembly. Ultimately, all three bills got to committee and two became law.

Alexander has also long advocated on behalf of students from military families, personally bringing the needs of military children to the Maryland State Board of Education’s attention, notably those needs protected under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.

“While there is tremendous support already for military families, there is still work to be done,” he writes. “Education professionals, especially administrators at local schools need to be aware of the unique challenges military children face and respond with flexibility and support.”

The son of Capt. Richard McGrath and Jessica McGrath, Alexander has been accepted to three of our nation’s top universities: Yale University, the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Building on a youth steeped in public policy-making, Alexander is destined to make a difference in citizens’ lives in any path that he pursues.

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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Henderson Heussner arrived in Florida under circumstances that were less than ideal.

His father, Col. Todd Heussner, had just deployed to Afghanistan He was leaving behind Colorado, a place he loved and all of his friends behind. And the move was motivated by obligation and compassion – Henderson and his family needed to take care of his grandfather who had terminal brain cancer.

But 18-year-old Henderson, recently named Operation Homefront’s 2017 Army Military Child of the Year® saw the struggles he was facing as an opportunity to grow. “Life is inherently challenging, and being able to work through obstacles and adversity with a level head is a serious asset,” says Henderson.

And work is exactly what Henderson did. The baseball coach was the only person at his new high school that Henderson knew. Henderson loved baseball and decided to pour his heart into the sport as it helped alleviate the stress of knowing his father was at war and seeing his grandfather battle cancer.

Every day after school, Henderson spent time in the batting cages and on the baseball field working out in the oppressive August heat. A couple of other kids noticed him and joined him. Henderson’s spirit and attitude started influencing the entire team and soon they were all getting ready for the season with extra effort. Quietly shouldering a burden that no one else knew about, Henderson built a reputation as a humble leader who set an example for others to emulate. In his sophomore season, Henderson broke two of his vertebrae but his work ethic and determination served him well as he battled back into top condition to continue playing.

Henderson credits his military upbringing with building strength and resiliency. “A military upbringing possesses inherent struggles. Overcoming these struggles is certainly not easy, but it has undoubtedly provided the most rewarding experiences of my life. To think that I’ve already faced some of life’s greatest troubles early on is encouraging, and inspires me to keep living life boldly,” said Henderson.

Henderson has excelled at baseball and academics, achieving a 5.14 GPA on a 4.0 scale and earning many college credits in the process. But Henderson’s achievements don’t stop at baseball or academics.

Henderson has also devoted 240 volunteer hours as a tutor and mentor for at-risk children and teens at the nonprofit New Horizons of Southwest Florida. Henderson, a onetime American Legion Boys State delegate and West Point Summer Leadership Experience participant, also served multiple terms as class president and as Student Government president. He has spent hundreds of hours as a youth group leader, Sports Camp counselor and Sunday School teacher at Summit Church (name town?).

Through Treats for the Troops, Henderson has collected, packaged and shipped more than 500 boxes to deployed service members. Henderson channeled his love for baseball to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges to enjoy the game through Challenger Little League and he has helped get baseball equipment to kids in the Dominican Republic.

A Rotary Club Scholar, Henderson also has volunteered for the Harry Chapin Food Bank, San Carlos Little League, Special Olympics, Family Readiness Group, and he has participated in fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy treatment and research and collected and distributed school supplies for kids in Honduras.

Henderson says his father’s service helps him stay focused. “I’m indescribably proud of my father and what he does. Knowing that, every day, he’s doing work that is shifting the trajectory of the world is a source of inspiration and motivation for me, “said Henderson. “I would advise (military kids) not to see disadvantages (of military life) as innately bad, but to see them as opportunities to create growth in themselves and the community.”

 

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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April is the Month of the Military Child.

There are very real challenges for children of our military families. Frequent moves uproot them and more changes than just the house they live in. New friends, new teachers, new requirements, sometimes new language. A deployment can bring stress and worry over the safety of those they love. Moments and milestones will occur without Mom or Dad there.

But you know what? Military children are a tough and resilient group. No question about it.

That’s not to say that it is all flowers and sunshine all the time. But it can be a rewarding and growth experience that leads to experiences and opportunities that one wouldn’t trade for the world.

We asked this year’s Military Child of the Year ® Award recipients to pass on one piece of advice on how to make the most of military life. These are definitely great tips that are sure to inspire:

• Be as kind and outgoing as possible. A smile can go a long way, and can be especially helpful in making new friends. –Mary Kate Cooper, Military Child of the Year ®, U.S. Coast Guard.

• Try to hit the ground running. It is very easy to get overwhelmed in a new place, but if you take a deep breath and be sure to smile, things will turn out well.-Alexander McGrath, Military Child of the Year ®, U.S. Navy, who has moved 7 times.

• No matter what challenges you face never take your eyes off your goals and strive to achieve them. There will always be a road block to overcome in your life but how you choose to overcome those hurdles will define who you are.-Jamal Braxton, Military Child of the Year ®, U.S. Air Force.

• (Don’t) see disadvantages as innately bad, but see them as opportunities to create growth in yourself and the community.-Henderson Heussner, Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Army.

• Be proud of your parents and your entire family’s commitment to serving our country.-Sophie Bernstein, Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation recipient and daughter of U.S. Navy reservist.

• Enjoy the ride. It will be over sooner than later and you are going to miss this life. Do not let opportunities pass you by.-Jackson Beatty, Military Child of the Year ®, U.S. Marine Corps.

• Always venture out and try new activities. Know that you are supported and you have a foundation with every military kid. If you are struggling, or going through a hard time, know you can always turn to another military child!-Molly Frey, Military Child of the Year ®, National Guard.

Throughout the next week, we will be sharing with you the stories of these seven accomplished young men and women that excel in scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life. Be sure to check back with us, and tune in on our Facebook page as we broadcast LIVE from the Military Child of the Year ® awards gala in Alexandria, VA on April 6.

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