|The 2015 Operation Military Kids Teen Leadership Group was visited by Aubie the Tiger during their stay! He welcomed the youth to Auburn, and took photos with them for a fun and memorable day.|
2015 National Guard Teen Leadership Summit brings military youth together in Auburn.
The Operation Military Kids program provides support for Alabama’s military youth. Part of a national emphasis supported by the land grant universities across the nation, the OMK program recognizes that military youth "are heroes, too." In Alabama, the program is based at Auburn University and implemented through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Alabama 4-H.
Regardless of whether families are experiencing deployment for the first time, the second time or more in a series of multiple deployments, OMK’s goal is to connect military children and youth with local resources to achieve a sense of community support and enhance their well-being.
Alabama OMK and the 4-H Military Partnership give the youth opportunities to attend camps and events, including an annual teen event in Auburn. Each winter, Alabama OMK offers a Youth Leadership Summit for National Guard teens across the state to participate in a weekend of teambuilding activities, learning and fun.
This year, 20 military youth came from all over Alabama. The National Guard youth were from Etowah, Talladega, Montgomery, Jefferson, Elmore, Cullman, Lee, Clay and Russell counties. National Guard youth are often geographically dispersed, meaning they do not live in close proximity to a military installation, and do not have access to the resources found there. This is one of the many reasons the OMK program works to bring them together and helps provide community support.
The teens who participated in the leadership summit focused on their role as military citizens in their local communities and how they can make a difference where they live.
Mrs. Hust, a military parent, said, "It makes me sad that this will be Nate’s last year with OMK. The program has had a great impact on Nate when it comes to leadership. He’s looking to join the Army Reserves and wants to be an officer."
Nate, 17, from Elmore County, is graduating high school this year. He joined the ROTC program Feb. 12, and will be attending college at Troy University while he is working to become an officer in the Army Reserves.
"So many of our youth are like Nate. They want to make a difference in their communities and be a leader," said Rachel Simpson, coordinator for the 4-H Operation: Military Kids. "4-H provides positive youth development experiences, so youth can develop the qualities needed to be a leader in their communities."
As a part of the weekend event, the youth participated in an open forum where they were able to identify a project that would address challenges youth in the military community face. Each group shared their ideas and received feedback on how they could make a difference by moving forward with their projects. They were also trained in resiliency and skills to help them make good choices when faced with everyday military challenges. The teens enjoyed their time by discussing civic leadership, participating in evening games on Samford lawn, visiting with Aubie the Tiger and ended their weekend by creating pet beds for a local animal shelter. The youth left energized and ready to make a difference in their communities.
Alabama OMK partners with the National Guard Child and Youth, School Services Program, and David Matthews Center for Civic Life to provide the summit each year.
Alabama 4-H’s OMK program encourages military youth to join or create new military 4-H clubs, and take advantage of all the fun and learning found with 4-H membership.
Alabama 4-H has grant funding available to support these military 4-H clubs for youth on and off installations. This is possible through support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; National Institute of Food and Agriculture; 4-H National Headquarters; U.S. Army Child, Youth and School Services; U.S. Air Force Child and Youth Programs; U.S. Navy Child and Youth Programs; and Auburn University’s Alabama Cooperation Extension 4-H Program through grant funding at Kansas State University.
The Alabama Operation: Military Kids partnership is a shared initiative of the U.S. Army Child, Youth & School Services and is funded by the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in collaboration with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Rachel Simpson is the OMK Coordinator for Alabama 4-H.