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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted an activity-packed three-day celebration to honor our stellar Military Child of the Year Award® recipients.  And what an amazing three days it was!

The 10th annual Military Child of the Year festivities kicked off Tuesday with our BAH Innovation Award recipient, Shelby Barber from Hawaii, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton. Her visit included a tour, a sampling of their state-of-the-art virtual reality experiences, and a brainstorming meeting with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team who will help Shelby bring to life her concept for a portable medical device for children with severe allergies.

On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. John I Pray, Jr., Air Force (Ret.), President and CEO of Operation Homefront, welcomed all seven recipients at a welcome lunch before the kids, their families, and OH staff departed for Capitol Hill to meet and greet their state congressional representatives.

Afterwards, the MCOY recipients came back to the hotel for dinner, where they received laptops from Booz Allen Hamilton and Microsoft, along with cash awards and some very special surprises from Kendra Scott and Cracker Barrel.

Thursday, our awardees had the opportunity to meet and mingle with OH staff, our National Board of Directors, and Region 1 Advisory Board member Danny Chung, from Microsoft, our breakfast sponsor, who presented each recipient with a brand new Surface laptop.

 

Then, it was off to the National Museum of American History. For the fifth year, OH worked with the Archives Center to give the MCOY recipients a behind-the-scene tour. When the MCOY recipients weren’t weaving through a maze of stacked artifacts, they were able to explore the exhibits, including the First Ladies display as well as the Star-Spangled Banner — the original stars and stripes that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 — providing the inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner lyrics from Francis Scott Key.

Then, it was time for the main event — the gala! ESPN analyst and former MLB player Chris Singleton served as the emcee, and appropriately kicked off the evening with a rousing “play ball!” America’s Beloved Tenor, Daniel Rodriguez, sang the national anthem during the Presentation of Colors by JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School from Alexandria, Virginia.


 

John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “We recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of these seven recipients, who represent the collective excellence of military children everywhere. They personify resiliency, leadership, and strength of character. Their families and communities, as well as our corporate partners and the staff and volunteers at Operation Homefront, are very proud of them as individuals and all the other young people in the military families they represent.”

 

Two wonderful guests helped OH salute the MCOY recipients: Brennley Brown and Melissa Stockwell.

Brennley, an emerging country artist (you might recognize her from Season 12 of The Voice) spoke about how inspired she was that she was here with kids who were her own age and had already accomplished so much. She treated the crowd to a beautiful musical performance.

Melissa Stockwell, Army veteran, two-time Paralympian, and proud mom, spoke about her journey after losing her leg. In her remarks, Melissa spoke about resilience and her inspiration, telling the MCOY recipients, “your voices are so strong … stand up for what you believe in.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lyons, Director for Logistics, representing General Joseph Dunford and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered remarks that underscored the importance of the military family, particularly the children, in ensuring our nation has a ready force. “The decision of our service members to remain serving in our nation’s military is most often made at the dinner table,” said Gen. Lyons. “The way organizations like Operation Homefront care for our families and support children like these helps us keep our forces engaged and strong.”

 

Lt. Gen. Lyons then was joined by John Pray and Lieutenant General Brian Arnold, USAF, Ret., Chairman of the Operation Homefront Board of Directors, for the award presentations. Each presenter took a few moments to celebrate the military family behind the recipients, then they highlighted the amazing awardee accomplishments.

Several of our previous Military Child of the Year Award recipients were on hand to help present the awards to the new generation.

Military Child of the Year Alumni: (left to right) Alena Deveau (2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year), Nicole Goetz (2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year), Alex McGrath (2017 Navy Military Child of the Year), Christian Fagala (2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year), Henderson Heussner (2017 Army Military Child of the Year), Maggie Rochon (2011 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year)

But it was not over yet! For the second year, Carnival Cruise Line and Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Richard Morse shocked, literally, the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

“This has been a remarkable evening,” said John as he closed out the evening. “To all our honorees tonight, I know your parents, families, and communities are so proud of you. We are proud of you too. You inspire every one of us.”

 

With the 10th annual Military Child of the Year in the books, we turn our focus to wrapping up the logistics and towards planning for the 11th MCOY Gala to be held on April 11, 2019.

Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2018 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Military Times, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, Veterans United Home Loans, and Under Armour. #MCOY2018

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15-year-old Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award recipient Joshua Frawley likes to challenge himself, especially when doing so means others will benefit.

Joshua has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. People with Asperger’s often have difficulty with social interactions or need strict routines to thrive. All challenges that could have been overwhelming for Joshua due to the frequent deployments and moves that come with life as a military family. But despite these challenges, Joshua regularly pushes himself out of his comfort zone. Never more so than when his father and mother both needed him to be strong.

His father Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Frawley, deployed multiple times while serving in the Marine Corps, and was then medically retired as 100% disabled veteran. Throughout the time, Joshua’s Mom was the source of strength for the family especially Joshua. Two years ago, Joshua’s mom found out she had a sarcoma in her ankle, which led to her leg being amputated three weeks later. The tables turned and the family, once looked over by a strong mom, had to step up and help her in her time of need. Once again, Joshua stepped outside his comfort zone, in a big way.

“My Mom is my biggest supporter. She was there for my Dad when he was injured and gave up her job teaching college to be his caregiver. She also made sure I got the support and help I needed at school to help me learn how to redirect, avoid meltdowns, and handle the issues that kids with Autism face. She never set limits on me and always signed me up for activities that most kids do. It was not always easy, but I can say I am glad she did. She wanted me to have as “normal” of a childhood as possible and to not let my Autism define me. I played baseball, soccer, basketball, and was in scouts,” said Joshua.

“Our family is stronger than ever and I think we appreciate life more. My mom has been so strong and faced her cancer and treatments head on. She doesn’t let being an amputee slow her down. In a way, all of the stuff my family has been through (as a military family) has helped prepare us for my Mom’s cancer battle. Although she is still fighting her sarcoma, she has already shown me that she is way stronger than cancer!” said Joshua.

His younger sister, Amber, who is 12, looks up to Joshua, especially when their parents are out of town for their mother’s cancer treatments and he helps his grandmother keep things running smoothly.

But his sister isn’t the only one who sees him as a role model. An excellent student, Joshua serves as a tutor to students who need help with math, science, and other disciplines. For over four years, Josh has been a SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) ambassador. SAVE student ambassadors provide positive peer influences and facilitate reporting bullying as a form of violence prevention, among other service projects. One unique factor Joshua brings to SAVE is that he can spread autism awareness, explaining to other students how children with autism might act differently in certain social situations. In this way, Joshua opens a window into the world of autism and helps build understanding and support for kids like himself.

This year, Joshua was nominated as an officer of his Students Against Violence Everywhere Program and has been serving as the treasurer. He will represent his program at a statewide conference to further the mission of SAVE in North Carolina Public Schools.

Joshua’s dream is to become an engineer “I am very proud of my Dad. His job was to disarm IEDs. He is so brave. I love electronics and robotics like my Dad and hope to someday find a way to contribute and give back to our country like he did,” said Joshua.

We have no doubt, Joshua, that the future has good things in store for you and your family.

See highlights from Joshua’s long list of achievements:

Meet all seven Military Child of the Year® Award recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Isabelle Richards knows what it means to be a part of a military family. Not only is she the daughter of Senior Chief Petty Officer James Richards and Lorraine Richards, she has five older brothers, four of whom have served on active duty.

Isabelle has embraced the opportunities and challenges of military life. “Military kids get a great gift when we are born into this life. My Dad and Mom always tell us we are giving you a gift of Grit,” she said. It is this grit and dedication that compelled us to select 13-year-old Isabelle as the 2018 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award recipient.

Having a front seat to the many ways that our young men and women serve, and the high costs that can be borne by them, Isabelle wanted to ensure that they never felt forgotten. She created a local call to action group/nonprofit called Cards and Cupcakes Supporting Our Wounded Warriors. Expanding the program from Southern California to the entire West Coast and Midwest, Isabelle’s organization sends homemade greeting cards and cupcakes to a segment of veterans she calls “healing heroes.” Students in schools across the country participate in her growing enterprise.

The countless hours she pours into Cards and Cupcakes pales in comparison to the contributions of wounded veterans, according to Isabelle, who lives by her own words. “When I am tired or feeling lazy, I remember what they sacrificed, and they never complain,” she said.

Isabelle carries her message of grit and determination to others, founding and running the Dove Self-Esteem project at her school. This year, she was chosen to be a peer mentor, a highly sought position, appointed by a teacher. Peer mentors help other students deal with crisis situations and encourages them to seek assistance. Isabelle did all of this while maintaining a 4.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

 

In addition to her passions, Isabelle spends double-digit hours every week in the dance studio. She aspires to be a professional ballerina but also use her passion for dance to help others learn to express themselves unconventionally.

Isabelle feels blessed to be a part of a military family. “I am the only girl and I have a Daddy and 4 older brothers who serve and protect our country, SO lucky is a huge way I feel. I am also extremely proud of my Daddy and brothers. I am the fan club president for all of them. We learned when we were young the importance of serving others. (Every day) and a lot of special moments are sacrificed by all of them and I am happy to shout it from our mountain that my Daddy and brothers are all proud military members.”

Her advice to other military kids: Embrace this great life we have. Don’t dwell on the negative, find the positive. Be the example to other military kids and help them learn about this crazy roller coaster life, remember how awesome it feels on the top of the ride when you have the wind blowing in your hair and share that feeling every day!

Isabelle is the daughter of Senior Chief Petty Officer James Richards and Lorraine Richards. Her youngest brother, James Nathaniel “Nate” Richards, won the 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award.

See highlights from Isabelle’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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As an Air Force child living in Europe for over a decade, Eve Glenn gained an appreciation for other cultures, people from diverse backgrounds, the importance of serving others around the globe, and … garlic mayonnaise?

All her hard work putting others before herself, and studying science, technology, engineering and math must make her hungry. When asked about traditions she has held onto from places she lived, Eve said the aioli condiment enjoyed in Germany, France, Spain, Turkey and other countries has become a staple in their Tampa, Florida, home near MacDill AFB.

Not that the 2018 Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award recipient spends much time thinking about her gastronomic preferences. A standout high school senior, she’s usually too busy acing tests, volunteering, tutoring and competing in cheer and Irish dance.

If it ever starts to feel overwhelming, or when military relocations seem challenging, Eve relies on family and friends to keep her focused. “I strive to succeed in every scenario despite external and internal obstacles that may hinder success,” she said. She also depends on the “strongest mental armor” she began forging when her father, Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Glenn, deployed to Iraq while she was in second grade, one of many lessons in the “art of resiliency.”

Eve’s favorite place to live was Stuttgart, Germany. There she met other high school students interested in STEM subjects, observed surgeries at a local hospital, and researched bacteria with a teacher. Her experiences have made her proud to represent military children: “Living abroad and befriending teenage Syrian refugees, German students and American peers; the opportunity to have such a diverse friend group stems directly from being a military child. I am most proud to be a military child because of the opportunities it has given me to embrace and continue learning to become a more worldly citizen.”

Eve is modeling herself as a leader on her parents. She respects her father and other service members, asking if it were not for their “commitment and eagerness to travel wherever the United States required assistance, who would protect and preserve freedom over the hostilities of oppression and injustice?”

She credits her mom, Lori Glenn, with helping her develop a positive outlook. “I aspire to be as motivated and determined as she is one day,” Eve said.

Her continued dedication will benefit her future, and likely have a positive impact on many other people too.

“As a leader, being a product of the military community has given me an opportunity to see the world through less selfish eyes, my instant connection to any new location.”

See highlights from Eve’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year® recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Avid reader Shelby Barber draws inspiration from a favorite author, the always quotable John Green of “The Fault in Our Stars” fame.

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” This line from Green’s novel, “Abundance of Katherines,” is among the quotes that speaks to Barber, who received the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation for her idea to help severe allergy sufferers, especially young children, administer medication more easily. The Operation Homefront award is presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which will assign a team to help her develop a plan for scaling her project.

Shelby also likes this Green quote from “Turtles All the Way Down”: “You’re both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You’re the narrator, the protagonist, and the side-kick. You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.”

Shelby says the statement addresses people’s potential. “We are all so much more than we think we are, but so many people depend on everyone else around them, when we all have so much strength inside,” she said.

Perhaps Shelby admires Green not only for his writing, but for his philanthropical efforts, his willingness to discuss his own obsessive-compulsive disorder to help destigmatize mental illness, and the free, educational YouTube channel he co-created with his brother, Hank. The brothers’ Project for Awesome has raised millions of dollars for numerous charities that “decrease the overall level of world suck.”

Like Green, Shelby, a high school senior, aspires to make change and give back. She volunteers for organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics and March of Dimes, and received The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Young Womanhood Recognition for establishing “a pattern of progress in your life,” “serving others, and developing and sharing your gifts and talents.”

Shelby is a proponent of making military families and children more aware of all the resources available to help support them. She remembers realizing her life as a military child was different from civilians’ in middle school, “when peers didn’t want to be my friend because they knew I would be moving.”

Sometimes, outsiders get the wrong idea about what military life is like. It does not necessarily occur to them how difficult and challenging it can be — for both the child and the parent — when a parent is deployed for months, or how lonely it feels to move far from relatives and friends. “People just see the benefits and they assume it’s just easy and it’s not,” Shelby said.

Her father’s service is “an example of selflessness as my dad is willing to sacrifice his own life for others,” she said of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Barber. “He has spent countless months away from us and does it because he wants to serve his country.”

That’s why Shelby advises other military kids to “make goals and follow through on them regardless of where you move to and who you have around you.”

After all, living in another country or on a distant base can be one of the best advantages of military life, Shelby said, helping families become more culturally aware and familiar with world affairs. She has loved living in Hawaii and England, where she discovered a new breakfast treat, crumpets.

Shelby, who wants to be a cardiac surgeon, may have her mother to thank if she realizes that goal someday. Elizabeth Barber taught her daughter the value of diligence, and “if you want something you have to work for it.”

See highlights from Shelby’s long list of achievements:

Meet all seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year® recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Rebekah Paxton was forced to grow up quickly.

Our 2018 Army Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, Rebecca was confronted first-hand with the wounds of war when her father was injured as a combat medic in the 82nd Airborne Division. He served 19 years and, now medically retired, suffers from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He is also a cancer survivor.

Coming to her family’s aid as a de facto third parent, Rebekah has spent much of her childhood caring for herself and for her younger brother and sister. She fed them, prepared them for school every morning, and took them to sports practices and games.

Rebekah has used the trial as fuel to motivate her toward a better future. Currently aspiring to become a neurosurgeon, she competed in three subjects for two years with the University Interscholastic League and earned the Medical Science Award of Excellence. “I have grown up at the Brooke Army Medical Hospital in San Antonio and I fell in love with the medical field. After I finish my residency I would like to apply for Doctors Without Borders and take two years helping other people worldwide,” she said.

As she has made college plans, Rebekah has set her sights on someday raising awareness of the plight of wounded veterans and their families. It’s no surprise that giving back is a big part of Rebekah’s past, present and future. Rebekah arrives at a life of helping others naturally. It’s in her DNA. Members of her family have served in the military from the Civil War to present day.

“Personally, I believe there is not enough support for military kids (and) families. I have (had to learn) how to cope with my father’s military-related injuries alone. Not many people outside my family realize what we have gone through in this process and I believe no one really wants to know what goes on. I believe civilians do not understand completely what it is like to have a service member come home from the terrors of war,” said Rebekah.

In addition to her passions, Rebecca has a heavy academic load, taking advanced placement courses as well as dual enrollment courses at Missouri Southern State University. Yet she still has time to pursue athletics and serve her community wherever possible. She is a varsity athlete in three sports, and has volunteered hundreds of hours working with children and faith groups. She was editor for the school yearbook and a writer for the school newspaper.

Rebekah certainly has risen to the many challenges her family has faced, and her life is an example of the quote that inspires her:

If all struggles and sufferings were eliminated, the spirit would no more reach maturity than would the child. (Elizabeth Elliott)

“I realize that what I have gone through during these trials have made me better. When I was in my toughest moments I did not believe that I would come out if those times okay. But God has been there the whole time and has given me an opportunity to do amazing things in life,” said Rebekah.

See highlights from Rebekah’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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When one meets Roark Corson, our 2018 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year®, there is no doubt that the future is in good hands.

“The movers and shakers of the world are not afraid to do things outside of their comfort zones or afraid to go to previously uncharted territory. The people who do great things for their communities and other people are courageous and willing to risk their safety and comfort for others. My dad exemplified that in his Coast Guard career, whether it was literally going into unfamiliar waters in a 378-foot cutter or working to support his crew members in new and unique endeavors. I know that in order for me to make an impact on my own community in the future, I will have to take bold action that may be frightening,“ he shared.

Roark demonstrates that ethos in everything he does. He is an academic superstar at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, VA, with a weighted GPA of 4.512 as an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction. He is a National Merit Scholarship finalist and has achieved something common to only 0.1% of high school students … a perfect 36 on the ACT.

In 2017, Roark won first place at the regional Tidewater Robotics and Maker Entrepreneur Challenge, which focused on designing and 3D printing an assistive technology device and devising product business and marketing plans. He also received the prestigious Princeton Book Award in 11th grade. Also in his junior year, Roark won first place in the Environmental Science category in the regional science fair, and his research has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Emerging Investigators.

While his academic resume is impressive, so is his dedication to serve others.

Roark has a passion for public speaking and is proud to use his voice to speak out about youth mental illness. Roark lost two friends to suicide in three years. In response, he began volunteering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the I Need a Lighthouse (suicide prevention) Foundation (INAL). He manages NAMI’s online calendar, raises funds, participates in teen conferences, and is a featured speaker for events that raise awareness of and dispel stigma surrounding youth depression and suicide. He was awarded the 2018 Helen P. Shropshire Human Rights Youth Award by the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission for his mental health advocacy work.

An Eagle scout, Roark has been involved with food, clothing and blanket drives at the family’s various duty stations, and his Eagle Scout project was building a butterfly garden in the courtyard of an inner-city K-12 school in Charleston, S.C.

As a member of the high school crew team, Roark earned two varsity letters and was elected captain his senior year.

As he graduates this year and heads off to college, Roark would like to pursue a career in law, as it offers him a way to combine his many talents and passion to empower others and better his community.

Roark is the son of Capt. Caleb Corson and Dr. Tyler Corson of Virginia Beach, VA.

See highlights from Roark’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times.

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