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Home : News : News
NEWS | Aug. 4, 2017

Air Force teen leaders offer messages of hope, resiliency

By By Steve Warns AFCEC Public Affairs

Teen leaders from Air Force installations worldwide gathered July 10-14, 2017 in San Antonio for the Air Force Youth of the Year and Teen Council Summit.

Air Force Services Activity Youth Programs partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to offer the Youth of the Year program.

Twenty-six Installation Youth of the Year winners and 12 Air Force Teen Council representatives worked together to develop the 2017-2018 Teen Movement Projects that will be implemented across the Air Force.

Topics for the quarterly projects included societal barriers, health, teen outreach, and life skills. Other activities included leadership seminars, teambuilding, and a community service project at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery that involved rolling 35,000 American flags. The summit culminated with the Air Force Installation Youth of the Year Ceremony.

“We celebrate these individuals who display the Air Force core values of Integrity First; Service Before Self; and Excellence in All We Do,” said Col. Donna Turner, AFSVA commander. “We recognize their extraordinary achievements and the impact they’ve had in their military communities.”

Jo Anne Dimitriou, AFSVA executive director, stressed the importance of cultivating relationships at youth centers to build readiness and resilience. Growing up as an Air Force brat, she spoke from personal experience.

“You never know who you’re going to meet and what impact they will have on your life,” said Dimitriou, adding in August she’ll visit with one of those friends she met 40 years ago. “When you meet that friend or when you share that experience with another youth anywhere, whether it’s at the youth center or at an event, you never know what that relationship will bring to your life. That’s so important, and you share that with your leadership.”

To date, Air Force Youths of the Year have earned more than $205,000 in scholarships. Two of the teens, David Zulli  of JBSA-Lackland and Julia Nakamoto of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, won their regional competitions and will represent the U.S. Air Force in the National Military Youth of the Year competition this September in Washington, D.C.  The winner will then compete against regional finalists from traditional Boys and Girls Clubs for the 2017 National Youth of the Year.

Zulli delivered an impassioned speech on how his Air Force Youth Center helped transform him from a boy who was the target of bullies into an emboldened individual.

“I remember walking through that blue door at the club and reading ‘Great futures start here,’” said Zulli, who plans on attending the University of Texas at Austin. “I had no idea how true those words were … because when I look in that mirror, I don’t see that broken, ostracized boy. I see hope... determination… and a great future, a reality that was birthed at my club.”

Arianna Skinner, the 2016 National Military Youth of the Year from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., said the youth centers at her installations helped her overcome her fear of moving place to place and have been the one constant in her childhood.

“As I grew up, I decided to put myself into a box and define myself in two simple words — military child,” Skinner said. “I’ve shattered that box. I’ve shown that I’m a military child, and I am very proud of that. But I’m also a student. An athlete. An artist. I’m a club kid.”

Editor’s Note: Thirty-nine other installation-level Youth of the Year winners were unable to attend the summit. The National Military Youth of the Year will be announced at a later date.