WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Boys and Girls Clubs of America named the son of a Fort Knox, Ky., soldier as the organization's first Military Youth of the Year during ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery on September 13, 2013.
RaShaan Allen, son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Singer and Midwest Military Youth of the Year, was selected from six finalists for the top honor.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark joins finalists in the Boys and Girls Club Military Youth of the Year ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Sept. 13, 2013. With him, from left, are Daj'zhane Radford Walton from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.; Brianna Sheperd from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; Xavier R. Thompson from Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath, England; Brandon Shields from Joint Base Andrews, Md.; RaShaan Allen from Fort Knox, Ky., who was named Military Youth of the Year; and Stephanie Nicole Ramer from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (DOD photo by Donna Miles)
Next week, he will represent all 1.9 million military children when he meets with President Barack Obama and attends a congressional breakfast, during which the National Boys and Girls Club of America Youth of the Year will be announced.
“I'm lost for words,” Allen said after Charles E. Milam, the Defense Department's principal director for military community and family policy, announced his selection by a panel of industry leaders. “This is just amazing.”
Allen was selected from an impressive field of regional finalists. The others were:
Northeast Military Youth of the Year: Brandon Shields from the Joint Base Andrews, Md., youth programs
Southeast Military Youth of the Year: Stephanie Nicole Ramer from the Moody Air Force Base, Ga., youth center
Southwest Military Youth of the Year: Brianna Sheperd, from the Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., youth and teen center
Pacific Military Youth of the Year: Daj'zhane Radford-Walton from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., youth programs
Overseas Military Youth of the Year: Xavier R. Thompson from Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath, England
Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, acknowledged that the judges had a tough decision on their hands. All six finalists, children of service members, demonstrate “extraordinary character, leadership and achievements” in service to their communities, academic performance and contributions to their families, he said.
And all, Clark said, have made big sacrifices, along with their families, to keep the United States secure.
A new military category for the national Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year award recognizes the unique challenges and obstacles military youth overcome every day, thanks in part to their Boys and Girls Club programs, Clark said.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America serves more than 468,000 youth on military installations, but hopes to expand that to 600,000, Clark said. “Military kids today need our support more than ever,” he added, saying the program seeks to help more military youth “realize their full potential” and develop plans to reach them.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander for NATO and commander of U.S. European Command, said the Boys and Girls Club made a huge difference in his life, teaching him about courage, leadership and commitment. Those qualities earned Clark his club's highest honor, when he was chosen from among 5,400 members as the 1962 Boy of the Year.
“I have always gone back to the lessons learned at the club. We discovered there was something higher than ourselves, and that giving back to others was what really mattered,” he said. “I owe a big debt to the Boys and Girls Clubs,” Clark said.
The general lauded the finalists. “You are all winners, and you are going to stay winners in life,” he said.
Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson, garrison commander at Fort Belvoir, Va., and keynote speaker for the event, said the finalists represent the best of military youth and the best of Boys and Girls Clubs.
Gadson cited his own children's resilience when a roadside bomb claimed both of his legs and severely injured his arm in Iraq in 2007. “They held my family together,” he said.
He praised the finalists who he said share that can-do spirit as they take on new challenges with determination and courage.
Allen credited the Devers Youth Center at Fort Knox, Ky., with helping him discover that winning path as he slowly healed from the loss of his home, neighborhood, school and best friend during Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
He served as co-president of the Youth Council and led the group to a national Boys and Girls Clubs of America award. He was an Army Family Action Plan delegate, sharing with Fort Knox leaders his insights about issues that affect teens. Meanwhile, he played eight varsity sports, captained six of those teams, and competed on the math and history bowl teams.
But Allen said he has found his calling in politics, and served as president of his high school freshman and senior classes. He's now on the football roster as a student at Western Kentucky University, with plans to major in political science and eventually seek political office.
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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