JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — Kaila Lemons, 18, of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was named the 2017 Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Military Youth of the Year.
Lemons, a freshman at the University of Utah, was chosen from among six finalists during a luncheon Sept. 7 in Washington, D.C.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that I won,” said Lemons, who is studying mechanical engineering and plans to one day own her own engineering firm. “The other youths who were in this competition with me were all absolutely phenomenal. I really do believe that each one of us would deserve the honor.”
The other finalists representing the Air Force were Julia Nakamoto of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and David Zulli of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Nakamoto was named Overseas Military Youth of the Year, and Zulli was named Southwest Region Military Youth of the Year.
“We celebrate these youths for their extraordinary achievements and recognize the impact they have had in their military community,” said Jon Grammer, director of programs for the Air Force Services Activity.
Drew Ulsh, assistant director of the Hill AFB Youth Center, which is affiliated with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, said he wasn’t surprised Lemons was named National Military Youth of the Year.
“She’s very bright, and she’s been a leader not just at the Youth Center, but on base and in the community,” Ulsh said. “She’s been a rock star.”
Lemons moved to Hill AFB from JB Langley-Eustis, Virginia, as a high school sophomore. She said she was having a hard time transitioning to her new surroundings and school. It became even more difficult when her father, Tech Sgt. Joshua Paullus, an assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of munitions storage with the 388th Maintenance Squadron, deployed to the Republic of Korea for a year.
Kaila’s mother, Orana, suggested she visit the Youth Center.
“Once I was there, that was where some of the other kids and advisers told me about the other activities,” Lemons said. “At first, I was pretty skeptical about it, but once I started going, I realized how open and welcoming they were. I kept going, and I really enjoyed it.”
Lemons dabbled in various activities as a Youth Center member. She eventually became president of the Keystone Club, which helps develop leadership qualities in teenagers.
Lemons credits the Youth Center for developing the interpersonal skills necessary to be a good leader in the community and honing her readiness and resilience.
“One of the great things about the Youth Center is the kids and advisers are part of your team, and they are there to support you,” Lemons said. “In order to support the mission of the Air Force, you have to support the families first. That’s exactly what the Youth Center is doing. We can be successful youths, and we can take that home and be successful with our families, too.”
As the 2017 Boys and Girls Clubs of America Military Youth of the Year, Lemons received a $20,000 scholarship, which she says, coupled with her awards for State and Regional Military Youth of the Year, she has the means to finance her education. Lemons will next compete for the National Youth of the Year Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C.