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Desert Junior-Senior High student named California military youth of the year

Kierstin Baldwin, a junior at Desert Junior-Senior High School on base, discusses her submission for the 2021 California Boys and Girls Clubs Military Youth of the Year competition with Paul La Bella, teen coordinator at Edwards AFB. Baldwin won the statewide competition and received a $2,500 scholarship recently. (Air Force photo by Gary Hatch)

Kierstin Baldwin, a junior at Desert Junior-Senior High School on base, discusses her submission for the 2021 California Boys and Girls Clubs Military Youth of the Year competition with Paul La Bella, teen coordinator at Edwards AFB. Baldwin won the statewide competition and received a $2,500 scholarship recently. (Air Force photo by Gary Hatch)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, California --

Kierstin Baldwin, a junior at Desert Junior-Senior High School on base, was named the California Boys and Girls Clubs Military Youth of the Year for 2021 and received a $2,500 scholarship recently.

It’s an honor she earned with just two weeks’ notice.

A late decision to withdraw from the competition by another student left Edwards teen coordinator Paul La Bella with a quandary – he needed to find someone he felt could be competitive under the contest’s criteria, and he needed to do it quickly.

He had known Baldwin from her involvement in the Keystone Club and the Teen Center over the years and he approached her with the opportunity.

She jumped at it.

Then she went to work.

Baldwin had always studied hard, gotten good grades, played competitive sports and taken an active leadership role in student government, Junior ROTC and Keystone Club.

In all, a good foundation on which to build a resume. But two weeks was not much time and much needed to be done.

Participants in the competition are required to submit four essays on specific topics: 1.What matters to me; 2.My club experience; 3.My military youth experience; and 4.Overcoming obstacles. They also submitted two letters of recommendation and other materials.

The competitors then put together an oral presentation based on what they had written in their essays. During the interview phase, competitors would present their narrative to a panel of judges and respond to questions. The judges would then decide on a winner based on the total package.

“This is a hard-earned and well-deserved honor,” said Col. Randel J. Gordon, 412th Test Wing vice commander. “Kierstin is an exemplary representative of the youth we have at Edwards. This reflects well on Kierstin – her leadership, her service to others, her poise and her ability to think on her feet.”

“This also shines a bright light on the terrific job being done here in our base schools and with the support of our after-school programs – the excellent resources, opportunities for learning and all the great things we have going on here for children, youth and teens at Edwards,” he said.

Appropriately, Baldwin said her experiences in school and club helped enable her to develop the ability to do well in situations like this.

“I’ve always liked school, I like to think I’ve been a good student, but I’ve tried harder the last few years,” Baldwin said. “It’s really easy (to like school) here. We have some really great teachers.”

Baldwin says she remembers a time when she felt somewhat intimidated and lacked the confidence to do well in public speaking. But the training, mentorship and experience she received through club and school activities helped her grow and improve.

That evolution caught La Bella’s attention.

“She’s had enough experience to develop the self-confidence that’s needed in these situations,” La Bella said. “She’s bubbly, she’s personable, she’s confident, she thinks well on her feet, and she had four strong essays to build her narrative off of,” La Bella said.

He also took note of her resiliency.

“One thing about Kierstin is she’s always positive. No matter what happens or how things turn out, she always seems to come away from it looking at things positively,” La Bella said.

Of course, COVID restrictions impacted the award competition this year. Everything was done virtually so the contestants weren’t able to meet in person, which for Baldwin has been one of the best parts of her experience with her club activities – going to conferences that lasted for several days, meeting and getting to know students from many different areas with like-minded interests, goals and hopes for the future.

“It was very enlightening – and intimidating – to attend those. There were so many other kids just like me. It was eye opening to see how many youth there are with the same goals,” Baldwin said.

This is the second time an Edwards youth has earned this honor. Sh’Linda Miller won the state competition in 2013, the first year the Boys and Girls Clubs included a category for military youth.