JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
In 2013, former Air Forces Cyber commander, Lt. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin, and his wife, Victoria, wanted to positively impact children in the San Antonio, Texas, community.
Instead of searching for an opportunity, they created one--Troops for Teens. The program is a joint South San Antonio High School and AFCYBER volunteer program that links Airmen mentors with at-risk teens.
“This program is extremely important because it exposes our students to our neighbors who they wouldn't normally see,” said Judy Perez, SSAHS at-risk counselor. “The work the volunteers do with our at-risk students is so crucial because … the volunteers have the ability to make a difference in the lives of our students when they are most vulnerable and likely to make bad choices. They have a way of connecting with them that really makes a lasting impression on them.”
According to Perez, a student is considered at-risk if they have any one of 13 indicators, such as failing two or more core areas in a semester; failing a grade level for one or more school years; being expelled during the past or current school year; and various other reasons.
“In the past, teachers would refer students to the program,” said Perez. “Now that it’s in its fifth year, I work directly with these students and select them to attend. There is a core group of about 35 to 40 students who rotate attending each monthly event.”
Today, Master Sgt. Austin Borchardt, 24th Air Force intelligence operations superintendent and Tech. Sgt. Jamie Adimora, 24th AF personnelist, work with Perez to oversee the program and its many Airmen volunteers.
“These kids don’t come from the best homes or situations, but they all have dreams,” said Adimora. “A lot of them want to get a degree in something, join the military, etc. We’re here to let them know there’s so much out there for them after high school. They can do anything.”
Adimora was quick to volunteer for Troops for Teens for one reason.
“I love kids,” she said. “We all come from different walks of life and most of us can somehow relate with what they’re dealing with. It’s rewarding to know I can have such an impact on someone who’s looking up to me, and I can make a difference in their lives.”
The program runs during the school year and hosts several events for the teens to learn from, interact with and have fun with the Airmen mentors. These events include cook outs and attending the Air Force Basic Military Training coin ceremony and graduation, among others.
“We take them to BMT so they can see our first step into the Air Force,” said Adimora. “We also introduce them to [Joint Base San Antonio] Airmen from different Air Force careers … all to show them we have many of the same jobs as the civilian sector.”
During a recent trip, the mentors introduced the teens to military working dogs and their handlers.
“You could have heard a pin drop as the handler explained the dog’s job and its relationship with its human partner,” Perez said. “This type of event exposes our students to opportunities in our own community and hopefully gets them to think about their own future.”
The program will wrap up in the coming months, but Adimora is confident it will continue into the 2018-2019 school year.
“As military members, especially in San Antonio, it’s important to support the communities in which we have such a prominent presence in,” she said. “It is my hope that through this program, we continue inspiring the younger generation and make a difference any way we can.”