Kathryn Combs, a local teen, was recently named the Boys and Girls Club Southwest Region Military Youth of the Year and was the runner up for the National Military Youth of the Year Award competition held in Washington, D.C., Aug. 13.
“I felt like a celebrity,” Combs said. “It was definitely not like a competition. It was a very awesome and very emotional experience. It felt like a collaboration.”
The Military Youth of the Year award is hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of America and is presented to a teenager who has overcome adversities through the guidance of the club. The youth must also exemplify leadership service, academic excellence and a healthy lifestyle. All military youth programs fall under the Boys and Girls Club.
Combs, 17, said the Middle School and Teen program has helped her through troubling times. Combs is open about overcoming bullying and suicidal tendencies.
“The Youth Center supported me and kids need that support. I feel like I was able to get my word out more than I ever dreamed,” Combs said.
“I had people who came up to me afterwards and it made me cry,” she added.
Combs was recognized for the hundreds of hours she volunteered at WSMR and in her local community. She also organized care packages for the Forgotten Soldier Campaign, developed anti-bullying and anti-drug campaigns within her school, and mentored youth at MST.
As a state winner Combs received a $5,000 scholarship. When she moved on to Regionals and won, she received an additional $10,000 scholarship, renewable for four years up to $40,000.
“We are very proud of our daughter and all her accomplishments,” said her mother Rebecca Dirks. “Katy has always had big dreams and high expectations for herself and we have never been willing to let her give up on her own dreams or expectations.”
With the MYOY southwest region title also comes the title of Boys and Girls Club ambassador for military youth. Combs explains the title as a spokesperson for military youth of the region, a title she does not take lightly. She said being an ambassador has made her more aware of issues that face military teens. The competition has helped her meet several interesting people and learn about the issues.
“I’ve never really moved around from base to base, that wasn’t my military experience, so being affiliated and getting to meet so many interesting people was awesome,” Combs said.
Combs’ journey for the competition began in February when she competed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for state. She then traveled to San Antonio, Texas, for a week to continue in the competition. After another win, Combs traveled to Florida as a guest speaker for a club event, then to Georgia for a three-day training, and on to Washington, D.C., for the national competition.
“I met a lot of interesting people. It’s given me friends that will probably last a lifetime, and it’s helped me get the word out on what helped me get through tough times,” Combs said. “It’s inspired people to do the same.”
Combs credits MST Lead Program Assistant Reina Marquez for encouraging her to apply for the award. She said she never thought the competition would lead her this far. Marquez said she encouraged Combs to apply because she felt she had what it took to at least win at the state level.
“She was the model youth, she participated in our clubs, she would volunteer and she was very good at public speaking,” Marquez said. “I knew she would be the best candidate for state and we were just surprised after that. I’m really, really happy she was able to get that far.”
Combs will be graduating from the Early College High School in May, and because of the advanced courses she has taken in high school she will be entering college as a junior. Combs will be attending New Mexico State University to study to become an OB-GYN. Combs said the end of the competition does not mean it’s the end of telling her story and being an advocate for the club and military youth.
“I plan to continue to tell my story as long as people will listen to me,” Combs said. “I don’t plan to ever stop.”
“Katy has an enormous heart and she would do anything she could to make sure no one ever had to hurt like she did. Reaching out to others and speaking about her experiences has truly become a passion of hers, and in the process it has helped her within her own healing process,” Dirks added.
This was the third year the Military Youth of the Year competition was held.