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From troubled teen to 'youth of the year'

Sep. 13, 2013 - 05:01PM   |  
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RaShaan Allen describes himself as a troubled youth a few years ago, with a 1.5 grade point average and problems with the law.

But Allen, the son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Singer, graduated this spring with a 3.5 GPA, was president of his senior class, played on eight varsity sports teams (and captained six of them), and attended Kentucky Boys State, where he was elected governor.

On Sept. 13, he was named the Boys & Girls Clubs Military Youth of the Year, receiving $30,000 in scholarship money in a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

This is the first year BGCA has held a military youth competition in its Youth of the Year program. Allen is competing with five other regional candidates for the BGCA Youth of the Year, to be announced Sept. 18.

“Thanks to my mom, who couldn’t be here, but I know she’s proud,” said Allen, 18, now a freshman at Western Kentucky University.

He said the Boys & Girls Club employees at the Devers Youth Center at Fort Knox, Ky., “all made an impact. If it weren’t for my youth center, I don’t know where I’d be in my life.”

The six youths in the military competition represent some 468,000 military youths served by Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 496 centers on military installations through partnerships with the military services.

“Those of us who wear the nation’s uniform strongly believe that programs for our military children, especially the Boys & Girls Clubs, enhance their parents’ ability to do our jobs,” said Army Col. Gregory Gadson, garrison commander at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Groups like these provide a sense of belonging “that our military children need and our parents want them to have,” Gadson said.

He called the six youths “incredibly inspiring,” adding that the day brought back some emotions he has experienced with his own two children, who also exemplify some of these same outstanding characteristics, he said.

Military children “represent tremendous resiliency,” he said, noting that when he was wounded about six years ago and both of his legs were amputated, he couldn’t even remember his daughter’s name at first. But from his perspective, he said, his children “held my family together.

“When my world was turned upside down, it was their unconditional love and strength that gave me the inspiration to fight through my challenge,” Gadson said.

The BGCA military regional winners “represent teamwork, a sense of civic responsibility, commitment, an important interest in technology and a hunger to learn,” he said.

He challenged the youths to continue displaying courage, which will allow them to overcome any challenges.

“Learn from your failures and always be an ambassador for our military children and your families and for your club,” Gadson said.

Dwight Coble, a supervisor at Devers Youth Center at Fort Knox who has been a mentor to Allen, had tears in his eyes after the winner was announced.

“His mom came in and had a heart-to-heart talk with us. She said she needed the center to provide guidance,” Coble said. “RaShaan was exceptional. He had to want to do it. He had the drive to change.”

Other regional winners, who each received $10,000:

Northeast: Brandon Shields, 18, son of Master Sgt. Kesya Shields and Christopher Shields, Joint Base Andrews Youth Programs, Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and now a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Southeast: Stephanie Nicole Ramer, 18, daughter of Air Force Col. Steven Ramer and Anne Ramer, Moody Air Force Base Youth Center, Ga., and now a freshman at Pennsylvania State University.

Southwest: Brianna Sheperd, 18, daughter of Air Force Master Sgt. Duane Sheperd and Catrina Sheperd, Holloman Air Force Base Youth and Teen Center, N.M.; a freshman at Stanford University.

Pacific: Daj’zhane Radford-Walton, 18, daughter of Air Force Tech Sgt. Richardi Walton and Senior Master Sgt. Eddie Walton, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Youth Programs, Ariz., now a freshman at the University of Arizona.

Overseas: Xavier R. Thompson, 17, son of Air Force Master Sgt. Timothy Thompson and Georgia Thompson, RAF Lakenheath, England.

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