SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – In the backdrop of beautiful Old San Juan, more than 40 teenagers from Army Reserve Families from Puerto Rico, attended the Youth, Leadership, Education and Development Summit Aug. 29 through Sept. 2.
The Children, Youth, and School Services hosted the YLEAD summit. Some of the objectives of the summit are to connect youths from Army Reserve families with one another, learn about the Reserves, and participate in activities that promote success at home, in school and within the community.
Many of the teenagers in attendance have experienced deployments in which their parents have been away from home for extended period of time. While other young teens are currently experiencing their first deployment in which their mother or father is overseas supporting continuing operations.
“This is a very significant program,” said Brig. Gen. Fernando Fernandez, Commanding General of the 1st Mission Support Command.
“During the past 11 years, the 1st MSC have mobilized over 5,000 soldiers from Puerto Rico in support of contingency operations.”
Fernandez said it’s extremely important to provide any information and services to family members of soldiers.
“In this particular event, we’re dealing with teenagers that are mostly from our command,” said Fernandez. “This is a difficult age. We must make sure the children know why their parents are deployed and to give them the tools to deal with the separation.”
The summit provides teens with group sessions lead by program directors from the Army Family Advocacy and Military Family Life Counseling. They participated in several different sessions like Family Values, When Deployment Hits Home and Stress Management. All together there were 10 different topics concerning military life for the children to attend.
Also VIP guests, Former Puerto Rican Senator Lucy Arce, U.S. Army Reserve Ambassadors Luis Berrios and Horacio Cabrera, were in attendance to talk with the group of teenagers.
“I’m honored to have the privilege to be part of this event on behalf of our nation to speak with the youth of our military families,” said Arce. “They are our future leaders.”
Arce said the summit is an excellent program to share information that helps teens cope with military life. The program shows them they are not alone in Puerto Rico, that they experience the same issues and concerns as military families in U.S.
The former senator not only spoke to the children as a VIP guest, she volunteered the weekend to support the summit and CYSS members who hosted the event.
“I’m very surprised at the maturity level of most of them,” said Arce, after spending the weekend with the teens. “The sky is the limit for them in the future. The tools and knowledge they received over the weekend will also help them develop into young leaders.”
Along with group sessions, the teens experienced a field trip to the historic site of Castillo de San Cristobal, a tour of the Puerto Rico Capitol Building and a visit to Hogar Intermedio de Mujeres community service project.
Also, the teenagers bonded together in team-building activities throughout the weekend. On the final night, many of them enjoyed showing off their singing and dancing skills in a talent show. The summit was able to create new friendships, lasting memories and lessons learned.
For brothers and sister, Sergio, 16, Fabio, 15, and Isabella, 11, this was their first YLEAD Summit. It comes at a time when their father Spc. Jorge Guzman, of the 49th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, is deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
“I thought it was important learn about dealing with deployments and knowing that everything is going to be ok while my father is away to Afghanistan,” said Isabella.
For Fabio, his experience at the capitol building and sessions of values will be most memorable.
“I enjoyed studying about values and self esteem,” said Fabio. “It will help me make it though the year, while my father is in a dangerous place.”
As the oldest sibling, Sergio is ready for the responsibilities.
“Now that my father is away, I have to take charge. I have to take care of my brother and sister, just like my father,” said Sergio. “The classes in coping with this situation have helped me a lot. Staying busy will help me keep my mind off thinking about him, I know he’ll come home safe.”
One of the main purposes of the YLEAD Summit is to educate the youth’s participants on the culture of the Army Reserves and provide an understanding of deployments.
“By doing these events and keeping your kids involved in your military career, the children are having a better understanding what mom and dad do in the military,” said Elsa Cortes, 1st MSC Family Program Director. “It makes them feel that they’re part of the Army family, that they are important and not alone. A happy family makes for a happy Soldier.”
For more information on Army Reserve CYSS programs, visit the web site www.arfp.org/cyss.