Story and photo by Andrea Sutherland
When Brianna Leahy took the chocolate cake with strawberry buttercream frosting out of the box, the children in the project room at the Fort Carson Youth Services Center abandoned their paintings, knitting and drawings to line up for a slice.
“Did you make that cake?” one child asked.
“Yep,” Leahy said.
“Then I want a piece.”
An aspiring baker, Leahy dished out slice after slice, sometimes cutting one piece in half to meet the needs of all the children.
When she finished, there wasn’t any left for her.
Unphased, Leahy left the project room to “make her rounds,” visiting the computer room and homework room at the center.
“That’s a typical response … She doesn’t even have to know the kids,” said Otis Forrest, assistant facility director of the youth center. “Brianna is always volunteering to help with the younger kids. She’s always willing to help out.”
In January, Leahy was nominated for the “Youth of the Year” award and will represent the Fort Carson Youth Services Center at the state competition March 28-29.
The competition is sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club of America and features several rounds. If Leahy wins at the state level, she will compete at the regional level and then nationals level where she could win a $50,000 scholarship and meet the president.
“I won ‘Youth of the Month’ once at the youth center,” Leahy said. “(Being nominated) caught me by surprise. It’s an honor.”
To qualify for the state competition, Leahy, 16, had to write nine essays, submit her grades – she carries a B average, and she will have to give a two-minute speech about what the youth center means to her.
“The speech makes me a little nervous,” Leahy said. “Explaining what life is like as a military student is hard.”
Leahy said being part of the youth center makes it easier since her friends understand.
“Most people here are military students and they go through the same thing,” Leahy said. “If I come in and I’m frustrated because my dad didn’t call, they say, ‘Oh don’t worry. My dad didn’t call either.'”
Leahy said when she told her father she’d been nominated for Youth of the Year, he said he was proud of her, as long as she kept her grades up.
In her junior year at Fountain-Fort Carson High School, Leahy attends both high school and college classes.
“I take three classes at (Pikes Peak Community College),” said Leahy, who wants to study culinary arts.
At her high school, Leahy is involved with the Keystone Club, which focuses on community service. She also serves as president of the Youth Action Council at the youth center.
“With YAC, we talk with the garrison commander,” Leahy said. “We’ve met with him about the snacks offered here and also about transportation to events for our friends who live off post.”
Leahy also manages her school’s volleyball and track teams.
“I do consider myself a role model,” Leahy said. “At the youth center I take part in peer mediation.
I help with conflicts between two kids and I also help in the homework room. I’m also a junior adviser for Smart Girls, which is a club for middle school girls.”
Leahy travels to Denver for the state Youth of the Year competition, where she will compete against 20 other nominees from around Colorado.
The Fort Carson Youth Services Center has had one nominee advance past the state level. Tara Cantu won the state Youth of the Year competition in 2007 and advanced to the regional level.
“We had a big pep rally for Brianna when we announced she was our nominee,” Forrest said. “We wish her all the best.”