CAMP PENDLETON — Darian Washington, 13, is one of the 156 semi-finalists nationwide to be named Military Child of the Year by Operation Homefront.
The award recognizes children of active duty Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard personnel who display exceptional character.
“No one group makes a greater sacrifice of service than the children of those who choose to serve their country,” Jim Knotts, Operation Homefront president and CEO, said.
“Our Military Child of the Year award honors those young patriots who overcome the challenges presented by deployments and relocations, who set an example for others to emulate in their communities.”
A lot sits on the shoulders of military children.
“The most common challenge is they move around so much,” Aaron Taylor, Operation Homefront director of media and marketing communications, said. “Additional challenges are a parent being deployed overseas in a combat zone. It ups the difficulty level for the entire family.
“The Military Child of the Year perseveres and does well in that environment. They take the opportunity and give back to others.”
Qualities looked for in youth nominees are resilience and strong character.
Darian has a lot of that.
Darian has volunteered more than 160 hours helping younger children as a youth leader at New Song Community Church spring and summer camps.
He has also put in three years of consistent weekly volunteer hours to help in the special education classroom at his school.
Crystal Washington, Darian’s mom, said he gets his resilience from bouncing back after being picked on by classmates for having a complex partial eye seizure or lazy eye.
At times the teasing was ruthless.
“It bothered him so immensely that he became very shy and lost confidence,” Crystal Washington said.
Then when Darian was in second grade he had surgery that corrected the physical problem.
What stayed with him was empathy for others who have to endure teasing.
“He knows what it felt like to be different and be the center of unwanted attention,” Crystal Washington said. “I think this is also why he was so eager to volunteer a few hours a week in the special education classroom.
“He is always the first one to stand up for someone in need or someone that is being bullied.”
Darian has found strength in helping others.
Last year he served as student council president and is running for student council president again this year.
“Through this office he was able to lead the student body through numerous activities and fundraisers,” Crystal Washington said. “He also gave speeches quite regularly.”
Academically Darian has made the school honor roll and received academic honors including student of the month and a summer scholarship to study at the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas.
Above all he has a kind heart.
“He has a big heart and is always putting others before himself,” Crystal Washington said. “He loves to be a part of anything that is helping others.”
During the semi-finalist round nominated youth are interviewed.
Then in the finalist round a winner for each branch of service is selected by a committee.
Final winners are flown with a parent to Washington, D.C., to pick up their award at a special recognition ceremony.
“The primary goal is to show appreciation for all these kids do,” Taylor said. “Service members volunteer. Military kids are sort of drafted into military life. We want to recognize them and thank them for it.”
Each winner of Military Child of the Year receives $5,000. Winners will be announced in March, a month before the recognition ceremony.