Military children and teens across the country demonstrate each day how resilient and talented they are. The Army National Guard Child & Youth Services Program has dedicated this page to highlighting the amazing accomplishments of our ARNG CYS teens. #GuardTeens
ARNG CYS would like to congratulate Elise Puliafico on being selected as the 2021 Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year award recipient for the National Guard! Elise, along with Tatum Paullus from Oregon, will be representing the National Guard at the upcoming Boys and Girls Club of America's Military Youth Summit in April. They will be leading a session focused on empowering military teens as advocates for each other and setting personal goals.
At this time, the ARNG CYS Program would also like to recognize Jackson Harris, who was one of five finalists, from the National Guard, for the 2021 Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year Award. Jackson's sister, Anna, was a finalist last year!
Jackson is an Air National Guard Youth, and is the son of Jennifer Harris and Senior Master Sergeant Stephen Harris. Jackson will graduate from high school this spring, where he is ranked 1st in his class, and will receive an Advanced Academic Diploma with all of the honors and distinction that come with it. During his time in High School Jackson has taken and successfully completed ten dual enrollment college-level courses. He has been involved in many organizations such as the National Honor Society, National Society of High School Scholars, National Beta Club, National Society of Leadership and Success, Phi Theta Kappa, FFA, and many more. Jackson has also served as the Captain of the Track Team. In his spare time, Jackson volunteers to work with special needs youth through the Peer Buddy program at his school, and he also helps younger children at the middle school with their Science Olympiad and Robotics programs. Jackson helps local military families by volunteering at the annual Veteran's Day event - this event helps over 150 veterans and their families each year. Jackson will be following his sister to Auburn University on a merit based scholarship, and will pursue a degree in Business.
Thank you, Kelli Dodd and SMS Harris, for sending this information to us. And thank you to all of the youth for your hard work. You are amazing! Thank you for representing yourselves and the National Guard youth community with a high degree of dignity and poise.
Pictured: Jackson Harris
This report highlights Guard Teens who are 2021 finalists in the Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year competition. The initiative focuses on showcasing the positive impact military youth have on their communities, schools, and families. This is the thirteenth year of the initiative, sponsored by Operation Homefront, which is a nonprofit organization with a mission of helping military families. By participating in this initiative, youth can connect with military leaders, celebrities, and their military peers around the world. Operation Homefront supports families from all service components.
Operation Homefront presents two different awards each year…
The Military Child of the Year Award identifies one youth recipient from each of the military service branches. There are five finalists from each branch, except for Space Force, as they are so new. The Guard finalists for the Military Child of the Year Award come from the states of Kansas, California, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts.
The second award presented by Operation Homefront is the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation which focuses on recognizing youth for being innovators in their communities. This award recognizes youth who have designed a solution to a local, regional, or global challenge. Winners of this award work with Booz Allen Hamilton, a global technology and consulting firm, to provide project support for one of their projects. Each branch has one finalist for this award; however, there is only one winner. The Guard Youth finalist for the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation is from Queens, New York.
Here is a little more information about some of the National Guard finalists for the Military Child of the Year Award:
First up, we have Elise Puliafico. This past year has been especially challenging for Elise, as her father has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. Her father is part of a Medical Command, which Elise has volunteered for in the past. Elise has also volunteered her time by serving on the National Guard’s Guard Teen Panel (GTP) for the past two years and is currently a member her state's State Teen Panel. Elise has been a mentor to other Guard youth, has helped create a community of the youth, and has always represented the Guard with poise and class. This past Holiday Season, Elise took the lead on a contactless holiday toy drive that delivered over 200 toys to children in her state. Elise has earned the Presidential Youth Volunteer Award for her efforts. Elise has also excelled at school. She was named to Girls State in 2020, is part of two National Honor Societies, and is her class’ treasurer. Sports is also an area where Elise has taken on a leadership role. She was the Captain of her tennis team for two years, was a field hockey all-star, and helped lead the field hockey team to back-to-back conference championships. If all that was not enough, Elise also found time to be a part of the math team, the ski club, and the debate team. Outside of school, she has worked jobs such as cashier, Spanish tutor, and babysitter. Just recently, Elise has been asked to serve on the steering committee of the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Military Teen Summit. We are confident Elise will represent the Guard well.
Our next Guard finalist, Mabelle Boehlke, is a senior at Baraboo High School. Mabelle is the daughter of an Active Guard Reservist, who has served in the military for 31 years. She has experienced many of the unique challenges of Guard life, such as deployments, annual training, and the weekends spent at drill. Mabelle has also experienced and overcome challenges that youth of Active-Duty Service Members experience such as having a parent live in another state while on assignment and living in a community without a military base close by. There have been times when she was the only military child in her classroom, and once she was the only military youth in her school. In schools, Mabelle challenges herself academically, this year, taking four advanced placement courses, one general high school course, and four college courses. School work is not the only place she pushed herself. Mabelle serves on her school’s National Honor Society as Vice President and Secretary. She also represents the athletes in her school on the Baraboo High School Leadership Council, where she has helped organize school activities, volunteer opportunities, and helped organize a wellness day for students with disabilities. Mabelle also serves on many other school committees and is a mentor to the freshmen. Her athletic career during high school has also been impressive, as she has been on the volleyball team all four years of high school, has served as Co-Captain for the team, and has lettered all three years that she has been on the track team. She also works two jobs, and during the pandemic has learned how to sew, and has worked with the USO to donate over 400 masks. Mabelle enjoys camping, hiking, tennis, and spending time with family and friends in her free time. She plans to attend college and get a degree in genetics or pursue a law degree. She is a great example of the Wisconsin Guard Motto, “We live here. We work here. We serve here.”
A special ‘Thank You’ to Susan LaFlame (Lead Child and Youth Program Coordinator) and JD Engelhardt (Lead Child and Youth Program Coordinator) for sharing this information about their teens.
Finally, CONGRATULATIONS to all the finalists!! Thank you for representing the National Guard and for sharing your story.
Pictured (L-R): Elise Puliafico and Mabelle Boehlke
This report comes from the East Coast state of Virginia. The Youth Program held a week long virtual camp, and the teens helped plan, market, and led activities during the week. One teen even came up with the idea to have an end of camp slideshow, and made that happen.
The teens and adult leaders met before the camp started to talk about what they wanted the camp to be like. The State Teen Panel helped create marketing videos, they shared their ideas for activities, and talked about how best to engage youth in an online format. The teens voices were heard during these meetings, and their suggestions were used in the development of the camp.
During Camp, our teens primarily assisted in the breakout sessions of the virtual camp. These were individual zoom calls that took place in the afternoon of each day with each camp group. Pairs of teens facilitated discussion questions and a virtual teambuilding activity during the session. Prior to camp, the Youth Program Leadership Team scheduled a series of practice sessions where their teens had the opportunity to practice leading a virtual teambuilding activity so that when camp arrived, they were professionals. Leading up to camp, the teens also submitted videos of themselves performing at-home Olympic challenges, to go along with the Olympics theme of the camp. These were used as the examples for the campers to stir up excitement to participate.
A select few of their most senior State Teen Panel members joined the Leadership Team on the live-streamed activity sessions to act as co-hosts. Here, with minimal coaching, they comfortably took the reins as MC’s to the camp content and announcers to the virtual talent show and Olympics challenge. Finally, one of their teens assisted in curating all the photos of the week and producing our end-of-camp slide show. This was a task she requested to take on without prompting from Joe or the other members of the team. They saw this level of excitement to participate from many of the youth who seemed eager to share in a meaningful camp experience.
The Youth did an amazing job in all of the parts of the camp, from the planning, the executing, and helping with the wrap up. Virginia’s teens stepped up and gave the youth of Virginia a great camp experience that they will remember. Thank you to Joe Duerksen for this report, and thank you to the teens for all of their hard work!
Pictured: Virginia teen, Maura Mahoney, sharing the bridge she build with the virtual campers
This story comes from the northern state of Minnesota.
MN Teen Panel members came up with a way to reach young children by reading books they would typically hand out at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration events. The idea for this project came from the teens in the program. A few of the teens had participated in the United Through Reading Challenge over the summer, and saw this as a way to continue reaching out to younger children.
United Through Reading is a nonprofit organization that helps connect military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud. It was started by the spouse of an Active Duty Navy Flight Surgeon. The Surgeon deployed to Vietnam, and when he returned, he was a "stranger" to his daughter. United Through Reading's founder was a reading specialist and understood the value of exposing children to literature.
The Minnesota teens read seven different books and posted the YouTube videos to the MN CYS Facebook page. One of the books read was Twenty-Six Princesses, a book which teaches the alphabet and rhyming. Another book read aloud was Goldilocks, which has the message that you should think about how you treat others. They also read Fancy Nancy Sees the Stars, which has the message that sometimes in life you have to be flexible. In general, all books read contained positive messages for youth and aspects of building resiliency - as one would do through the Master Resilience Training initiative.
Under normal circumstances, the MN Teen Panel would host an in-person service project, but was not possible due to the current pandemic. This initiative was a great way to serve their military community, that was also safe and fun. The intended audience for this project was parents who have young children at home and who like listening to books. You could feel the joy and passion in the teen’s voices when they read the books. This was a great teen led initiative. Thank you, MN Teen Panel members and the Child and Youth Program staff, for all of your hard work.
You can learn more about the United Through Reading program by clicking here.
If you would like to view the videos created by the MN Teen Panel, visit their Facebook page by clicking here and then the "videos" tab on the left-hand side of their Facebook page.
The idea for this project came from one of the youths in the program. The youth saw an opportunity on Facebook and reached out the CYPC team, who then reached out to the point of contact. After a few emails they settled on a date and time for the project.
The group helped remove many trees that had been killed by spruce beetles. The beetle lives under the bark of trees, and the adult beetles emerge in the spring and bore through the bark of a new host tree. Female beetles excavate galleries in which they lay eggs. The newly hatched larvae create feeding tunnels at right angles to the larger egg galleries, where they complete their one or two year life cycle. If numerous beetles attack the tree, the resulting brood can girdle and kill the tree. (For more information on spruce beetles, click here)
The group started the day with a safety brief, and waited for a chainsaw crew to cut down about 15 trees, and to cut the limbs off of them so they could be carried easily. One group of teens put the downed trees into a truck that was headed to the dump, and a second group cut the grass and raked the yard of the facility. There were a total of five youth volunteers who helped with this project. This is another great example of a teen led project. Way to go Team Alaska!
Thank you, Alaska State Teen Panel, and the Child and Youth Services Team, for all of your hard work to help your community!
Pictured: Members of the AK National Guard State Teen Panel who participated in the community service event
This story comes from the great state of North Dakota, and highlights a service project their Teen Panel participated in during the summer of 2020.
North Dakota National Guard (NDNG) Child and Youth Services and the NDNG Teen Panel wanted to give military kids something back, since they had to cancel all in-person events/camps since March. So they came up with Camp Homefront 2020.
Camp Homefront is a four-day camp in a box. The Teen Panel was put to the challenge and had to come up with things that youth would like to have in the boxes. For each day, there would be a STEM activity, art and crafts, outdoor activities, and also a daily fitness challenge. Some of the things they wanted to see were, bird house builds, slime kits, string art, and Hunt the Good Stuff Journals. There were many different fun projects in each box along with the educational content.
Ten of the NDNG Teen Panel members came in on July 13th, to help assemble all 100 boxes. They presented the Camp Homefront daily activities to North Dakota National Guard Leadership. The teens also recorded videos helping military kids with the different crafts and activities in each box. The videos were posted on the North Dakota National Guard Facebook Page, so children could view it at any time they may have a question or need help. The Teen Panel was also involved in conducting games and activities virtually when the camp took place 10-13 August. They helped select different virtual games, activities, camp songs, and even planned a talent show, so the kids can still connect, if not in person, then virtually.
Thank you to Mandy Malo, Trudy Hjelseth, and the ND Teen council for all of your hard work.
Pictured: Members of the NDNG Teen Panel, taken while packing-up camp in-a-box materials for youth
The following story comes from the great state of Kansas, and highlights a project that a former Teen Council member did in 2018.
Jessica Vanstory served on the Kansas State Teen Council during her time in High School. Jessica came up with the deployment kit idea after going through multiple deployments with her own family. She wanted to combine many of the most effective coping mechanisms and put them into a kit. The kit contained stationary for writing letters, a calendar with stickers to count down the days until the family member came home, and a jar of Hershey’s kisses so that the child could have a kiss from the family member each day.
The kits went to 150 children at Amanda Arnold Elementary School in Manhattan KS, which is a few miles away from the Army base Fort Riley. Jessica wanted to support military families, and saw this as a fun way to give back.
Jessica is currently a Music Education major at Kansas State University, and plays in the Marching band and the Wind Ensemble.
This is another great example of a National Guard Teen stepping up and helping her community.
You can view the media coverage this project received by clicking here.
Pictured: Jessica Vanstory with completed deployment kits ready for distribution
Bethany Chacon, a teen who has served on the NM Army National Guard Teen Panel participated in the Boys and Girls Club Military Youth of the Year competition this past spring. She won the state competition and will compete in the Southwest Regional Military Youth of the Year competition in the fall. She was able to participate in this competition because of a partnership between the NM ARNG Youth Program and Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque NM.
Bethany has been a part of the Youth Center on the base since 3rd grade. During Middle and High School she got involved in many of the Boys and Girls Club programs that they offered. As she progressed through the program Bethany started taking on more leadership and mentoring roles. She served as a Teen Volunteer for two years where she helped set up recreation activities for the younger children. This past year was Bethany’s last year in High School and she decided to participate in the Youth of the Year competition.
This year’s competition had some different challenges than past year’s competitions. Bethany still had to write the essays, get the letters of recommendation, give a three minute speech, and submit her transcripts as required for the process. The speech was given over video, and the interview portion of the competition was done over video call. Despite these challenges Bethany rose to the occasion, and became the NM Military Youth of the Year. She received a $2,500 college scholarship for winning this competition. If she wins the regional competition she will receive an additional $20,000 scholarship and will have the chance to become the National Military Youth of the Year where she can earn even more scholarship money.
Bethany is just one great example of the youth who are a part of our programs. Thank you to the NM team who helped mentor and guide her along her journey.
Pictured: Bethany Chacon pictured with NM Lead Child & Youth Program Coordinator, Eric Ponce
If you would like to recognize a teen in your program, please reach out to Jeremy Van Wyk (ARNG CYS Program Manager) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help us as we continue highlighting the awesome achievements of our military youth.
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