A 14-year-old violinist and military youth has achieved an accomplishment that few other Fort Meade teens have ever done.
On May 16, Wynona Jessop earned the title of Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Military Youth of the Year for Maryland at the organization’s statewide competition.
The event was held at the Boys and Girls Club at Wiley H. Bates Heritage Park in Annapolis.
“I feel good about [the title], I feel happy,” said Wynona, a freshman in the Performing and Visual Arts Magnet Program at Broadneck High School in Anne Arundel County.
“It set me in a positive direction for my future. It is a personal accomplishment that I can someday put on my resume.”
A graduate of MacArthur Middle School, Wynona is the daughter of Sgt. Nichole Knudson of the 781st Military Intelligence Battalion.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, with support from Walt Disney, Toyota, Taco Bell and the University of Phoenix, awarded the Glen Burnie resident with a $5,000 college scholarship.
It will be held in trust for Wynona until her freshman year of college.
Dayle Bowser, a Child and Youth Program associate at the Teen Center, helped Wynona complete the contest’s application packet and attended the competition with her.
“I was shocked,” Bowser said of the win. “… There was no reason why she wouldn’t win.”
Bowser said that youths from the Teen Center at Andrews Air Force Base have held the title for the past few years.
“I’m happy that we got it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the next round.”
The next step in the competition will be for the title of Military Youth of the Year for the Northeast Region. The contest will be held June 18-20 in New York City.
The regional title and a $10,000 scholarship are part of the win. The regional contest leads up to the National Youth of the Year Award.
“Each year, one exceptional club member is selected to be the National Youth of the Year, serving as an ambassador for Boys and Girls Clubs youth as well as a voice for all of our nation’s young people,” according to the organization’s website.
Bowser said Wynona was “handpicked” to represent the Teen Center by Talissa McMullen, the center’s director.
Prior to her win, Wynona attended eighth grade at MacArthur and enrolled at the Fort Meade Youth Center. She competed in the Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Junior Military Youth of the Year, which Bowser said prepared her for this year’s competition.
For this year’s competition, Wynona was required to complete four essays of 500 words apiece; answer five short questions about her life, her experience as a military youth and her future goals; and submit three letters of recommendation.
She also had to submit her high school transcript.
At the competition, Wynona and the other participants had to present a three-minute speech before the judges. Their speeches were taken from material in their essays.
The competitors also toured the statehouse in Annapolis and the U.S. Naval Academy.
The winner of the statewide title was announced May 16 at an awards ceremony and dinner at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.
For the Northeast regional contest “the stakes are higher,” Bowser said.
Contestants will have to participate in a community service project.
“I’m just going to hold my head up high,” Wynona said of her chances at the Northeast regional contest. “We’re all winners because we made it to the next level.”
Bowser said Wynona’s chances are good.
“She’s very focused academically. She has a good head on her shoulders,” Bowser said. “She has a vision for how she wants to go forward. She’s driven and resilient.”
Bowser said many other youths her age do not have the staying power.
In her essay for the competition, Wynona wrote about the challenges and benefits of being a military child.
“In my earlier years, my education was deeply uprooted when we would move because every school was at a different point in the curriculum,” Wynona wrote. “There have also been times where I felt that I had no real friends because after a while, we would lose contact as we went our separate ways.
“I have also had to deal with goodbyes to good friends and the constant shift in environment,” she wrote. “The constant moving and relocating was painful.
“But the people and the environment around me have shown me that military communities find strength within ourselves and each other, so that we can make it through any challenges we may face.”
In addition to being a musician, Wynona is an honor student and is enrolled in the Boys and Girls Clubs’ S.M.A.R.T. Girls and Youth Sponsorship programs, which develop character and leadership skills in youths.
Wynona aspires to become a psychiatrist and maybe a politician.
She wrote in an essay that these two career paths would allow her to help people.
“As a psychiatrist, I could bring change to people’s lives on a personal level. As a politician, I would be able to raise awareness and help pass laws causing a larger change [within] society.”
Wynona said she may apply to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine or a law school in Washington, D.C., or New York.
The Northeast regional competition will include a formal gala for the contestants.
“I’m very honored to be able to experience this and tell my siblings about it,” Wynona said.
Her sister Vivian, 11, and brother Aksel, 3, are enrolled in DoD child care centers. They may take advantage of Boys and Girls Clubs of America programs in the future.
“Maybe they can achieve that same goal where they attend when they get older,” Wynona said.