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We caught up with Juanita Collins, Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® Award for the Coast Guard in 2014. She has been attending University of South Florida, where she is a junior, majoring in biomedical sciences. She plans to graduate in fall 2019, and is still determining her post-graduation plans. She is a second-year resident assistant, president of the National Residence Hall Honorary, and recently joined an acapella singing group. She also has a shadowing position at Bayside Urgent Care Center in Clearwater, Florida. Juanita thanked Operation Homefront for helping make all this possible, and shares what she learned from other award recipients — and shares some advice of her own :

OH: What has been the biggest change in your life since receiving the award

JC: The biggest change in my life since 2014 has definitely been the transition into college life and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s quite different living on your own and learning how to be independent. I absolutely love my school. Through my undergraduate experience so far, I have learned a lot about myself and about life in general.

OH: Tell us about a fond memory you have from traveling to Washington, D.C., for the gala.

JC: My favorite memory from the Washington trip for gala weekend was probably being up on the stage with my family to receive my award. Throughout that trip, I knew it was special because I was able to share that experience and accomplishment with the people who meant the most to me. It wouldn’t have been the same without them.

OH: You have always been an active volunteer with various organizations. Do you still have time to volunteer, or to help military families?

JC: My most recent plan to help military families is to volunteer at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa, Florida, when I have time during the weekends. The VA hospital is very close to my school, so that is the least I can do to pay it forward.

OH: Have other military children ever given you advice you valued?

JC: My favorite piece of advice that I’ve gotten from another military child is to be giving. The other recipients from 2014 all displayed such giving hearts, and that’s something I always admired. For example, Kenzie Hall, the Army recipient, created a nonprofit to grant dream wishes to military kids who had a parent injured or killed in combat. That was something that I loved just seeing how young she was and how full of compassion; she was such an example. What I have learned is to always have a giving heart. No bad has ever come out of helping others.

OH: What advice would you give future MCOY award recipients?

JC: For future recipients, I would give the advice to have fun on your trip. It’s a great honor to be recognized, so continue to be awesome. Never take these opportunities for granted, and use the scholarship to do what you really want to do with your life, not what you think your parents want for you to do in school and what career they want for you, and not what you feel will impress your friends or make people think more highly of you. Use that scholarship and put that money toward what you’re passionate about, what you can imagine yourself doing for the rest of your life. Only you truly know that. But also, never doubt yourself. If you choose a major or career path that seems super hard, and you’re scared that you might not make it; go for it. Don’t be afraid to reach a goal because of the time it’ll take to accomplish; the time will pass anyway. Work hard and be determined, and stay focused! Hold that title with pride.

OH: What would you say to your past or future self?

JC: I wish I could say the above advice to my past self. I really could have used this advice, but I’m glad that I learned it while life went on, even if it was the hard way. To my future self, I would like to say, “Wherever you are, I’m glad you’re there. I’m sure it was a tough path to get to where you are, and I’m proud of you.”

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Nominations are now open for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Six of them will represent a branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their achievements while facing the challenges of military family life. The 7th award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton which will honor a young patriot who has designed a bold, creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

Nominate today at http://bit.ly/2cKII81 Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

Recipients of the Military Child of the Year® awards will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala. The recipient of the Innovation Award will receive a $10,000 cash award, donated gifts, and a trip to Washington, DC with a parent or guardian and assistance from Booz Allen Hamilton to advance their project. #MCOY2018

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Mark Newberry, our 2013 Military Child of the Year® for the Air Force, has had quite the journey. Since we last met him, he has pursued his passions that have taken him from the University of Michigan to a pending commission in the U.S. Air Force after graduation in December.

Today, Mark shares with us his incredible story of four years of “Fun, Free-falls, Field Training and Flying Along the Way.” We hope it inspires you as much as it has all of us here at Operation Homefront:

In 2013, I embarked on a journey across the country from Spokane, Washington, to begin school at the University of Michigan, and follow in my father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force ROTC program. (Editor’s Note: Col. Brian Newberry graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1991, and retired in 2014 as wing commander at Fairchild AFB, Washington.)

Meeting all the generals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the [Military Child of the Year] gala in Washington, D.C., and seeing the family-first culture of the military being celebrated there inspired me to jump full force into ROTC and do well. Over the next four years, both college and ROTC opened many unexpected doors for me. I started school studying chemistry and planned on being a surgeon. Life, as I had thought, was all planned out. I was doing research in the hospital for a cardiothoracic surgeon, examining what caused esophageal leaks after surgery. Even though my research was extremely exciting, both the hospital experience and organic chemistry convinced me that being a doctor wasn’t where my true passion lied.
At the same time, I was preparing to travel to Alabama and endure the Air Force’s four-week field training course, where cadets are put through an intense test of their leadership abilities. It was in the humid Alabama summer that I fell in love with a new side of the Air Force. So, I decided to try flying and got bit by the bug. I guess being a pilot was in my blood because I completed my first solo flight in a Cessna 172 later that summer.

Returning to school as an upperclassman brought more challenging classes and an increase in the responsibilities I held in my ROTC detachment. It was in these new roles that I grew as a leader, where as a group commander and later vice wing commander, I focused on creating a family-like atmosphere mirroring the same environment that I grew up in as a military child. I also had the opportunity to learn martial arts with the Marine ROTC program, and take those same abilities back to Alabama to be trained as an Air Force senior combatives instructor, where I taught martial arts to cadets at field training. My senior year surprised me with two more opportunities that previously I could only dream of. First, I received a pilot’s slot to attend undergraduate pilot training following graduation. Second, I was able to attend free-fall parachute training at the Air Force Academy, where I successfully completed five free-fall jumps to earn my jump wings. Now, I return to school for one final semester before I graduate in December with a degree in neuroscience and a commission in the world’s greatest Air Force.

One of the greatest honors of my life so far was representing the Air Force in 2013 as an Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year®. I grew up living the Air Force lifestyle, and as a military child, moved ten times in 18 years. I was lucky. I’m now 22 and before the age of 20, I got to travel all around the country. I stood at the base of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, ran along the beaches of Charleston, South Carolina, woke up to the sight of Mount Rainier in Washington, and lived next door to our nation’s capital. I also had the chance to meet people from every walk of life, many of whom are lifelong friends. However, it wasn’t always easy. The most difficult part of growing up came toward the end of my high school years. With my father deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, for my entire junior year, I had to step up for my family. While balancing school and athletics, I had to also be the pillar that supported my mom and brother, which proved to be challenging at times. Then, upon my Dad’s return home, it was time to move again, this time away from my closest childhood friends and right before my senior year, to a smaller, more rural school.

Mark and family at the Military Child of the Year® awards gala in D.C., 2013.

If you would have told me as a high school senior that I would be chosen to represent military children at the Operation Homefront gala, meet the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, and receive an Air Force ROTC scholarship that would afford me opportunities to study what I love, jump out of planes, and become a pilot, I wouldn’t have believed you. Being a military child has afforded me so many opportunities that not many children get to experience. For example, the drastic change in cultures between my school in Virginia and the new one in Washington at times were frustrating to deal with. However, there were many opportunities at my new school that allowed me to be a leader and to help fellow military children that I wouldn’t have had at my old school. At a small school full of military children, they all immediately looked to me, since I was the “commander’s kid.” So I led the only way I knew how, by example. I immersed myself with the cross country and track teams, took an active role in the leadership team, and strived to excel in the classroom as I prepared to apply for colleges. Even though I lived in a fishbowl environment, where every move I made was under a microscope, I made sure that my actions illustrated the high expectations I held for myself. Then, going forward into college, I used that same mindset to lead by example and strive for achievement.

My father nominated me for Military Child of the Year® for staying positive throughout all the moves, epitomizing what military kids go through, where they say, “OK, let’s do this,” and make the best of any situation while their parents serve.

My experiences as a military child are just a snapshot of the sacrifices continuously made by military children. Looking back, I am thankful for the challenges and the opportunities that being a military child gave me. I learned how to adapt, how important family is, and how incredibly blessed I am to be an American. It was at the end of my high school career that I started to realize how my experiences as a military child had shaped me.

For all the military children out there, seize those opportunities. Because of them, I will soon be soaring the big blue skies! Thank you, Operation Homefront, for all that you do to support military families and their children, and helping them follow their dreams!

-Mark

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Operation Homefront’s annual Military Child of the Year® awards recognize six outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Each of them represent a branch of the armed forces for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life. There is a seventh award for a young person age 13-18. This award is the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation® presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. With a new invention, improvement to existing technology, creation of a new nonprofit or community service group, or expansion of an existing membership organization, the winner of this award shows the power of innovative thinking.

Nominations now open for:
2018 Military Child of the Year®
2018 Military Child of the Year® Innovation Award

 

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One of the reasons we created the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year® award program is to honor the resilience and strength of the youngest members of a military family who are along for the ride as their parents protect our freedom. It’s not an easy life. But the way most military kids carry themselves shows that they have endured, and survived, some very tough times. Multiple moves. Deployments. Sickness and injury that may affect a family member or themselves.

This year’s award recipients took some time to share how they get through tough times…to let other kids know that they struggle too and to inspire them to persevere.

Their words of advice are remarkable…read on:

 

Moving to a different place can be exciting, but with that comes the challenge of being the new kid in school and having to make new friends. Not knowing where you fit in within the social arena of school life (is hard). The thing that gets me through those tough times is running, or walking outside. Doing any activity outside helps me relieve stress and relax.
Jamal Braxton, 18, Air Force Military Child of the Year

 

 

I always would pack my schedule full during any tough time I would face. I would try new activities that would take up my free time, so that I had no time to think about what was causing that tough time, such as deployment.- Molly Frey, 16, National Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

In times of trial, I find comfort in the fact that I’ve already faced and overcome some of life’s greatest challenges, and doing so is not abnormal, but my continual reality. –Henderson Heussner, 18, Army Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

My family (is) 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. -Mary Kate Cooper, 17, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to exercise when I am frustrated or irritated.- Sophie Bernstein, 17, Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several things keep me together during hard times. Two of them are my dogs. They sit with me and love me no matter what I do. It is relaxing to sit there and pet them. Another factor is my family; they discuss my options with me and keep me on track.- Jackson Beatty, 18, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

The support of my family, especially my mother, who has served as the anchor of my family while we have moved from place to place. My mom is a huge inspiration to me, and the soul of our family. It is because of her support that we have been so successful. I also had great personal consistency through my participation in the Boy Scouts of America. While there were many different things in the places I lived, the Scouting program always allowed me to have a home where I could easily participate in familiar activities and have an instant group of friends in a new location. – Alexander McGrath, 17, Navy Military Child of the Year

 

Find out more about this year’s recipients, take a look at more pictures from this year’s event or watch the 2017 Facebook Live presentation of our awards ceremony

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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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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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