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Military Youth of the Year: Recognition is a journey

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Jennifer Choate, Team Pete Military Youth of the Year, plays tag with children at the R.P. Lee Youth Center, Feb. 2, 2015. To apply for the award in the Boys & Girls Club of America, a youth has to complete a 23-page application, four essays, and meet a panel of judges. Choate will compete at state level in March with youth from the other military bases in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tiffany DeNault)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Jennifer Choate, Team Pete Military Youth of the Year, plays tag with children at the R.P. Lee Youth Center, Feb. 2, 2015. To apply for the award in the Boys & Girls Club of America, a youth has to complete a 23-page application, four essays, and meet a panel of judges. Choate will compete at state level in March with youth from the other military bases in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tiffany DeNault)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A 23-page application, four essays, gathering supporting materials, giving a speech, and interviews by a panel of judges are only part of the process to become the Boys & Girls Club of America Military Youth of the Year. The presentations and paperwork summarize a young person's character, scholarship and leadership ability placing them in competition with other youth from Peterson Air Force Base for a chance to win up to $65,000 in college scholarships.

Jennifer Choate, 16, recently won the Military Youth of the Year for the second time. Choate, a sophomore at Cheyenne Mountain High School, was selected over two other applicants. She moves on to the state level competition March 23 in Denver where she will vie with youth from other military bases in Colorado for a chance at $5,000 in scholarship money and a trip to the regional competition.

"It's a journey. The thing is it's not about the winning, but it's about the journey," said Ali Seligman, R.P. Lee Youth Center assistant director. With all the components needed to apply as well as maintaining grades, character, morals and leadership it is an entire learning experience in itself, she said.

"It was a very close race. Every single one of them was in the running, truly," Seligman said. "(Choate) was, and more so than her peers."

A well-spoken and outgoing young woman, Choate said she was worried about the competition going into this year's event. When she found out she won again she was surprised, but happy.

"It feels great," Choate admitted. "I am looking forward to doing it again. I feel empowered... I get to talk for the Peterson youth."

Choate likes her chances at the state level this year. She thinks greater involvement at a broader level will help her this time around. Last year her involvement was primarily focused on the local club, however, this year serving on the Air Force Teen Council and the Joint Services Teen Council will bolster her experience.

"I have more leadership experience, more public speaking experience and problem solving," she said.

The state competition is very different from the local version and going through the process last year provides Choate with some insight that will make her a much better candidate. Last year, for example, her speech was very broad in scope. This time around she knows to speak about her personal military experiences.

"My chances are very good," Choate said, all confidence and no cockiness in her words.

An avid volunteer at the youth center, she said the idea of making a change in the world inspires her.

"You hear about kids (going through) deployment or (permanent change of station) and the possibility to make a change in their lives is pretty amazing," Choate said.

She wants to go into the Air Force after school because it has given her so many opportunities already. Her area of interest right now is pediatrics.

"I like the kids. You get used to each other and really bond," she said. "I really like it, it's like a little family."

Military Youth of the Year is a unique component of the National Youth of the Year program. It recognizes Boys & Girls Club members from military installations, who overcome remarkable odds while demonstrating top notch character and accomplishments. At each level there are growing levels of scholarships topping out at $65,000 for the winner at the national level.

"It starts here," Seligman said. "This is where we build the foundation for our youth of the year."

In the lengthy application youth ages 14-18 must effectively demonstrate why he or she should represent the Boys & Girls Clubs as Military Youth of the Year.

The application includes four essays, one about their club experiences, vision for American youth, their personal brand and experiences as a military youth. School transcripts are considered and three letters of recommendation are required as well. Applicants can send up to two supporting documents, articles they have written for example, or any awards won.

After that process is complete the material is submitted to a five-member panel of judges who hear a speech from the applicant and follow it up with an interview. The judges follow a scoring format provided by the Boys & Girls Clubs to determine the winners at each level.

At the base level, Youth of the Year winners receive a medal and certificate, enrollment in a one week Air Force leadership summer camp and a three-day expense paid TDY to the state competition. Winners at the state event receive a $5,000 scholarship to the college of his or her choice, a TDY to regionals and other prizes. Last year all participants in Denver got laptop computers.

Regionals are set for late June in San Antonio, Texas. Winners at that level will get a $10,000 renewable scholarship totaling $40,000 and a TDY to the national level typically held in Washington, D.C. The winner of the national Military Youth of the Year award will add, in addition to prior winnings, a $20,000 scholarship and the opportunity to compete in the national Youth of the Year event.

Choate thinks being involved with youth and taking part in the Boys & Girls Clubs is something other young persons should seriously consider.

"It's a great experience to do. I hate it when people say it's great to put on a college application. It is, but it's more than that," she said.

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