GROTON, Conn. – Kelsey Morales, daughter of a Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London senior chief petty officer and an active participant at the SUBASE Youth Center, won the state-level Military Youth of the Year for 2019.

Morales is the daughter of Senior Chief Yeoman (Submarine) Joey Morales, assigned to Naval Submarine Support Facility onboard SUBASE New London. The Youth of the Year is a program put on by the Boys and Girls Club of America that awards teenagers who demonstrate exemplary citizenship and community participation. Military Youth of the Year is a special category for youths of military families. Morales won the state-level award and a $5,000 college scholarship, and is now going to the regional level.

"It actually started in my freshman year of high school," said Morales. "They had been trying to convince me to do Youth of the Year, at least to run just to get the feel of it. But I do not like public speaking. When I found out that I had to memorize a speech and say it in front of people, it was a no-go for me. It took them three years to convince me."

Despite her hesitancy, Morales decided to take the plunge for the chance to win a scholarship, and it paid off. Morales explained the essays she had to write and the subject she chose, one which was literally close to home for her.

"For Youth of the Year you have to write three essays and military youth write a fourth about your military experience. You have to write about your personal brand and what you want the future to be. I’m from Ledyard and we have no community centers. It’s just the schools. There are programs, but you have to pay for them. My family moved to Ledyard about six years ago, and we always just drive over to Groton to see everyone."

Morales delivered her speech before a panel of judges who graded the speeches content as well as her performance and delivery of the speech.

"Effective afterschool programs bring a wide range of benefits to youth, families and communities," Morales’ speech went. "It can have a stabilizing effect on the lives of young people. After school programs can help improve academic performance, promote physical and mental health and provide a safe, structure environment for the children of working parents."

Morales said she was nervous giving her speech, but a judge in uniform gave her silent reassurance and she went on to win the state-level. Her next stop is the regional competition in New York City and eventually the national level in Washington, D.C.

"I don’t like public speaking, and I was really shaking for the first 20 seconds," said Morales. "I was worried that took a lot of points off. Then this Coast Guard officer named Cmdr. Caesar Acosta looked at me very relaxed, and I got more confident. I thought, maybe I do have a chance. The grand prize is a full ride to whatever college you’re going to and a car. But by the time you get there, you’ve already won enough money to pay off college. The regional prize is $40,000. I’ve already got $5,000, which pays a year and a half for me."

A young woman with her mind on the community and its wellbeing, Morales plans to use the scholarship to become a teacher and stay in the area she loves and calls home.

"I’m going to Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts, majoring in education," said Morales. "I would like to become an elementary teacher. Connecticut is home for me, so I definitely plan on coming back here. I’m going to get my teachers license in Massachusetts and Connecticut so I can stay between those two places. Hopefully in Connecticut, hopefully in Ledyard."

Morales stressed her gratitude to her friends and family who have shown her nothing but support this far and are accompanying her straight to the top. She also added that to her, scholarship money is not the most important thing about becoming Youth of the Year.

"I would definitely like to thank my parents," said Morales. "They have helped and supported me through it all; Samuel is my rock who keeps me sane. He’s my best friend here! My siblings, too. They helped a lot. This helps you get outside your comfort zone. It’s less about winning and more about making friends and getting out there, getting your message across. I’m really happy I waited until senior year, because I don’t have much else to do and this is a nice finale."

Samuel Vasquez, is the teen coordinator at the SUBASE Youth Center and has been Morales’ mentor through much of the buildup to her winning State Youth of the Year. He shared his pride at seeing her excel and achieve great things, adding he has absolute confidence in her ability to go still farther.

"It is very satisfying to see Kelsey take the state," said Vasquez. "I’ve known her for many years and to see her grow into this young woman she’s becoming means a lot. It means we’re doing our part here to help her grow. As far as moving on to the next level and winning regionals, I think she has a ton of potential. Her only limit is herself."

Young people who would like to take part in future Youth of the Year competitions can learn more by visiting www.bgca.org/programs/character-leadership/youth-of-the-year or the SUBASE Youth Center in Groton, or by calling (860) 448-6843.

Connecticut Media Group