By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2015 – The 2015 Military Youth of the Year honor, presented jointly by the Defense Department and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, was awarded to an 18-year-old military daughter from Vogelweh, Germany, during a ceremony held at the Navy Memorial Naval Heritage Center here yesterday.
RianSimone Harris, 18, an 11-year member of the program, was selected from six finalists for her sound character, leadership abilities and willingness to give back to her community — the partnership’s goal in supporting youth programs and military youth, officials said.
“Great futures do start here,” Harris said of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America program. In Germany, she said, the organization became her “home away from home.”
Harris received a $20,000 scholarship and will represent military youth in their communities around the world as part of her title. She plans to study sociology and criminal justice at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.
Harris has spent 14 years overseas as a military child, she said. Harris said she initially felt confused when she arrived in Germany, until she joined the Boys & Girls Club program. She said she knew she fit in there and went every day, studying guitar and pursuing her artistic abilities.
The biggest challenge Harris faced by working in the program was fear of the unknown, she said at yesterday’s ceremony.
“[I had a] slight hesitation every time I was [near] the phone because I didn’t know when, or if, I’d ever hear my dad’s voice again,” she said.
At club gatherings, however, Harris said she was surrounded by other kids going through even bigger challenges.
“I learned to open up and allowed them to help me grow,” she said. “Not only did we help each other but as a group we could impact an entire community,” because of the club’s brand, and being a product of that brand makes her proud.
All six finalists spoke about overcoming challenges from their parents’ deployment to divorce, illness and bullying, and each described how the club program helped them with leadership and a variety of other skills.
A Long Partnership
The military youth services and the Boys & Girls Clubs organization have worked together on the initiative for nearly 25 years, and this year marks the third military child competition.
“I’m not only truly awed by these six amazing teens, but also by those they set the example for out there serving every day,” said Navy Cmdr. Peter Hoegel Jr., deputy director of the Pentagon’s office of family policy/children and youth, before announcing Harris as the 2015 Military Youth of the Year.
Of the six regional winners in the final competition yesterday, Harris represented the overseas region. The five other finalists were:
- Andrew Brown, 17, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Southeast regional winner;
- Daniela Suarez, 16, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Pacific regional winner;
- Kathryn Combs, 17, Army’s White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Southwest regional winner;
- Paige Holmes, 17, Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, Midwest regional winner; and
- Karlinette Galvan, 18, Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen, Puerto Rico, Northeast regional winner.
Next month, Harris and five nonmilitary regional winners from the club will gather here again, and one will be named the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s 2015 National Youth of the Year.