WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Franklin “Miles” Smith-Custer has been named the 2020 Ohio Military Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year Program and has been awarded a scholarship.
He is the son of Sara Smith-Custer, a contracting officer in the Contract Execution Directorate, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
But this is not the first time Smith-Custer, 18, has been so honored — he won the same award in 2017. He was selected because of his outstanding leadership, service, academic excellence and dedication to living a healthy lifestyle, according to the award’s criteria.
He graduated from Carroll High School this spring, having been a member of the track team, running in 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprint events.
Since 1991, the BGCA has partnered with the U.S. armed services to provide support and services to military-connected youth on and off installation. Because military-connected youth face unique challenges, the BGCA helps them access specialized opportunities, cultivate lifelong friendships and develop the resilience they need to build great futures.
Smith-Custer, a Legacy Program intern on base this summer, has been active in the Youth Center program’s Keystone and Torch leadership clubs since he was in the seventh grade, serving as Keystone president; promoted mental health and wellness; and served as a role model to younger kids, said Bennie Luck, Youth Center program coordinator. Smith-Custer represented the center at various events, served on a military advisory teen council and advanced anti-bullying measures.
“We try to impact kids’ lives and help them shape their future,” Luck said of the center’s mission.
“I like how everyone is family at the Youth Program,” Smith-Custer said. “We are all super close. The staff greets me, and the kids are excited to see me. They always want to hang out and play games. It’s a really nice environment to be in. In the past when I’ve had struggles, everyone is supportive. I loved going there.”
Being a two-time MYOTY winner is very exciting, he continued. He won $5,000 and $2,500 scholarships.
“It’s a very big honor. I’m a voice for the military kids out there, and it’s good to be that voice so I can stand up for them,” Smith-Custer said.
Joel McKeever, Youth Center programs assistant, served as Smith-Custer’s advisor during his MYOTY application process.
“He’s been a great leader and mentor for the program,” McKeever said. “He is a civilian dependent and is a good role model. His behavior is on point, and he did well in school.”
Smith-Custer said he is excited to report to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s preparatory school in July.
“I want to be active and help people, and I feel the U.S. Coast Guard gives me the best opportunity to do that,” he said. “They focus on humanitarian needs during a crisis and that’s what I want to do.”
He said he appreciates what his mother has done for him, especially as a single parent.
“She is very loving and caring,” he said. “It feels good now that I’m going to a good school and am on the right track in life. That’s something to take off her shoulders.”
His brother Julian, 15, has attended the Youth Center for years, too.
“I am so proud of Miles being named Military Youth of the Year for the second time,” Sara Smith-Custer said. “I have seen the skills he learned from the process have a positive impact in other areas of his life. I am grateful to the staff for all of the time, support and guidance they provided to Miles through the process.”
Smith-Custer offers the following advice to his fellow Youth Center program participants:
“Never overlook opportunities. There are so many at the Youth Center. Consider all your options and choose wisely. The program gave me many opportunities and helped me get on this path. I’m always going to remember what they did for me and always be grateful.”