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We are pleased to share with you today some words from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.) on this year’s Military Child of the Year Awards recipients and why it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why we want to make this moment as special as possible for our 2020 recipients at this challenging time:

Although we, as a nation, are still struggling with the unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic, it is important for all to look for bright spots to show the promise of a brighter future. At Operation Homefront, I don’t need to look any farther than this year’s honorees for our Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards.

These prestigious awards are designed to recognize the amazing achievements of seven of our nation’s military teenagers who have excelled at home, in school, and in their communities through their leadership, volunteerism, scholarship, and extracurricular involvement, all while working with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.

Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, I canceled this year’s celebration.

That said, I knew we couldn’t sit idly by and let an opportunity to showcase some exceptional young people pass so I am proud to say that the show will go on with our virtual celebration of these extraordinary representatives of the millions of military kids who serve our great nation alongside their parents.

All at Operation Homefront firmly believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event. Having grown up in a military family, and after serving for over 27 years in the Air Force, I understand the challenges that our military families experience. Faced with the uncertainty of frequent short- or no-notice moves and deployments, it can be difficult for military kids to focus in school, to feel connected to their community, and to develop close friendships. That is why I believe it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why Operation Homefront wants to make this moment as special as possible for our recipients.

President and CEO, John I. Pray, at our MCOY gala in 2019. Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, we canceled this year’s in-person celebration. However, we believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event.

The accomplishments of our 2020 group, like all our previous winners, is in a word – impressive. Our judges selected the seven honorees from a very competitive field of more than 400 nominees. The seven represent each branch of service and our Innovation Award recipient. I like to refer to them as the “Magnificent Seven.”

Our 2020 MCOY winners are:

Kainath Kamil – Innovation Award
Fionnuala “Finn” Mahoney – Army
Niklas Cooper – Marine Corps
Miryam Smith — Navy
Samantha Grab — Air Force
Pierce Corson — Coast Guard
Kristina Lee — National Guard

 

Kainath, Finn, Niklas, Miryam, Samantha, Pierce, and Kristina all exemplify the spirit of selfless service that that not only improves lives in their communities but also offers hope for our future. They have logged over 2,080 volunteer hours in the past 12 months. Five of them are National Honor Society members, all of them take AP or dual college credit classes in school. Four are competitive athletes (swimming, volleyball, cross country, cheer) and five speak at least one language other than English.

They are caregivers to family members and leaders in sports and academia. They are ambassadors for mental health awareness, global issues, and the need for greater understanding of differences. They have used science and innovation to find solutions to world problems. Finn is even working with a team at the National Institutes of Health that is searching for a solution to COVID-19.

As we soak in all their achievements, there is little doubt why we must celebrate this very special and deserving group of military teens who represent that brighter future I noted earlier. Congratulations to all of you and to your families.

I would also like to recognize and extend a heartfelt thanks to our partners and supporters who have made our MCOY program possible:

• Our 2020 presenting sponsor, United Technologies (Pratt & Whitney); our Innovation Award sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton; and our other event sponsors, Procter & Gamble, LaQuinta by Wyndham Hotels, PNC Bank, Veterans United Home Loans, Carnival Cruise Line, and Military Times

• Our MCOY judges, board members, OH staff and volunteers, and our two wonderful leaders the Military Child of the Year Award program, Jenny Valderas and Emily Miller.

The celebration continues as more stories and videos are coming – including congratulatory videos from John Heald of Carnival Cruise Line, and the country music sensation Runaway June, who were scheduled to perform. Also, while you may not meet our great MCOY recipients in person, you will get to hear the Magnificent Seven in their own words. So please stay tuned.

Please remember to share your congratulations and special messages with this year’s recipients at http://www.operationhomefront.org/mcoymessages.

View President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)’s message for the kick-off of virtual Military Child of the Year gala:

 

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Our virtual 2020 Military Child of the Year® award gala continues today with an introduction to this year’s recipients: Fionnuala Mahoney, U.S. Army, Samantha Grab, U.S. Air Force;  Pierce Corson, U.S. Coast Guard; Niklas Cooper, U.S. Marine Corps; Kristina Lee, National Guard; Miryam Smith, U.S. Navy; Kainath Kamil, Innovation Award presented by Booz Allen Hamilton.

Check back with us over the next week as we dedicate a day to each winner and honor their achievements by sharing their unique stories of courage, resiliency, service and success with you. We hope you will be as inspired as we have been.

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

 

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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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jeffrey-burds-navyThe day before Jeffrey Burds’ mother passed away from colon cancer, she told him, “Do great things in life.”

Jeffrey was nine years old, and he took to those words to heart, devoting his life to making a difference in the lives of others. Now 17, Jeffrey has distinguished himself with his leadership and through his academic excellence through eight military permanent change of station relocations and 66 months of his father’s deployment.

Jeffrey is the very definition of a leader. He is the executive officer of the Camp Lejeune High School Marine Corps JROTC, the boot camp of which he was named an honor graduate in 2013. Jeffrey’s talent for leadership is further evidenced by his roles on the high school’s track, football, wrestling, and basketball teams, two of which he has captained for.

Jeffrey was awarded in 2014 with Most Valuable Player honors in track, Defensive Most Valuable Player in football, and the Sportsmanship Award in basketball. He has also captained his football and track teams. His coaches chose him to receive the 8th Marine Regiment Workhorse Award. The award is presented to “a senior student who is a team leader, shows exceptional character, and is a leader in the classroom,” and was presented to Jeffrey by the commander of the 8th Marines.

Jeffrey has accomplished all of this while maintaining a 3.94 grade point average.

Outside of the classroom, Jeffrey pursues service to community with American Cancer Society Relay for Life, National Downs Syndrome Buddy Walk, Special Olympics, and Semper Fi Fund Outdoor Odyssey.

As he contemplates his future, which may include service to his country as a Navy officer, Jeffrey continues to hold fast to the promise he made to his mother to “do great things in life.”

Jeffrey is the son of Debra Rae Burds and Navy Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Joseph Burds of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

For the next week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

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