SAMOAN STUDENT IN FLORIDA RECEIVES MILITARY CHILD OF THE YEAR AWARD
A Florida high school student of Samoan ancestry is among five recipients being presented the 2014 Military Child of the Year Award, an event which recognizes the top military child from each of the five military services of the U.S. Armed Service.
Seventeen-year old Juanita Lindsay Collins of Clearwater, Fla. has been chosen to represent the Coast Guard. She’s a senior at Largo High School, where she was nominated by Courtney Ward, her Guidance Counselor at the Exploring Careers and Education in Leadership (EXCEL) magnet program, according to her profile provided by Operation Homefront, the organizer of this award.
In her comments submitted with the nomination, Ward says Juanita is “a young woman of talent, character, and integrity who maintains a 4.5 cumulative weighted GPA and is ranked number 5 out of 305 seniors.” Ward shares that Juanita is constantly working to be “the best version of herself that she can be.”
Presentation of the award was held Apr. 10 in the national’s Capitol where General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided special remarks. Juanita along with her parents, Tafaoga Foalima Collins and Ricky Collins of Pago Pago, and other family members were in attendance.
Asked for their reaction to this honor given to their daughter and how this honor will help her in the future, her parents told Samoa News, “We were very excited, happy and emotional. This honor will help her in the future financially with what she won and moving forward with her college plans.”
The Collins shared one of the important events in their daughter’s life, which was when she travelled on a humanitarian trip to the Caribbean nation of Dominican Republic.
“One of those events was her trip for a student service project with the Ryan Nece Foundation to the Dominican Republic,” her parents said via email from Florida. “Helping with laying concrete for impoverished homes, collecting and donating hygiene products and school supplies to kids at the Cigar Family school & the streets of the Dominican Republic.”
While in Washington D.C., the Collins family were welcomed by staff of Congressman Faleomavaega’s Office where Juanita was given a certificate and a signed letter by the Congressman congratulating her. She was also presented a flag flown at the Capitol.
Jim Knotts, President & CEO of Operation Homefront said in a news release, “The Military Child of the Year Award honors the resiliency and service to country of our youngest heroes. These children thrive in the face of the challenges of military life with grace and courage, and use that experience to become leaders in their communities.”
In her profile posted on the Operation Homefront website, Juanita says military kids see firsthand how hard service members work to keep our country safe. “I have extended family in different branches. Civilian kids don’t necessarily understand the sacrifice for them to be home and kept safe, so it makes me grateful” she says.
She is the oldest of four children. Her father is a security guard and her mother an Assistant Personnel Officer at Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater. Juanita’s aunt is active duty Air Force, and her uncle is medically retired from the Army with two tours in Afghanistan.
“Her perfect day would be spending time with her grandparents in Samoa, immersed in her roots and culture, together enjoying all the island gifts of beautiful beaches, swimming, and tropical fruits and flowers,” according to Operation Homeland.
This fall, Juanita will begin courses to become a pediatrician. Although not committed to a school yet, she has so far been accepted by Stetson University, University of South Florida in Tampa and Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Each recipient for these awards received $5,000 along with the special award. The five were chosen from a pool of nearly 1,000 nominees and each award recipient was chosen by a committee that included active-duty and retired military personnel, spouses of senior military leaders, veteran service organization leaders, teachers, and community members.
More information on Juanita: www.militarychildoftheyear.org/Recipients.
Samoa News reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.