DM airmen inspire youth

Over the course of two weeks Airmen from across the 355th Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base,Ariz., mentored children in the Arizona Youth Impact Program (YIP) summer camp.

The Youth Impact Program is an innovative program that partners leaders from the U.S. military with leaders from universities across the United States to improve academic and leadership skills in disadvantaged at-risk middle school students.

The goal of the program is to guide students through training sessions designed to ignite a passion for STEM based learning, life skills, leadership and character development, and learn to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Ross
Staff Sgt. Colby Cantrell, 55th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk flying crew chief, briefs a young man on the Pavehawk during a base tour for the Youth Impact Program at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., June 17, 2022. The program partners with military and university leaders to improve academic and leadership skills in disadvantaged at-risk middle school students.

“One thing I can guarantee is that the experience that they are going to have at this camp is going to change them and put them on a positive trajectory,” said Syndric Steptoe, University of Arizona (UA) football Director of Player and Community Relations. “Something I take very seriously is being able to pour into the lives of young men and giving them the opportunity to see themselves beyond their current circumstances.”

The camp starts by dividing campers up into teams with both military and student-athlete leaders. Each day the kids are dropped off at the UA.

“The typical daily schedule started with getting the kids checked in and going to breakfast,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Gilchrist, one of the DM YIP team leaders. “The first half of the day is the academic portion, with teams going to English and Language Arts and STEM sessions.”

Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Ross
Youth Impact Program students and coaches pose with 355th Security Forces Squadron Airmen and their military working dogs during a base tour at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., June 17, 2022. The program partners with military and university leaders to improve academic and leadership skills in disadvantaged at-risk middle school students.

After the academic portion the kids received lunch and transition to the leadership portion of the day, where speakers would discuss different aspects of leadership. The last portion of the day, the physical portion, involved military physical training and football drills with the UA players.

One day of the camp was dedicated to visiting DM. Campers saw the 355th Security Forces Squadron military working dogs in action, toured the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, spoke with Col. Sheets, the 355th Wing vice commander and got an up close look at an HH-60G Pave Hawk, a HC-130J Combat King II and an A-10 Thunderbolt II.

“The program is very rewarding and the kids are amazing,” said Gilchrist. “I think seeing all the things that the UA does and provides student athletes if you put in the hard work on the field as well as in the classroom the possibilities are endless and I think that the military being there showed these kids how to display the core values in every aspect of life. I would recommend this program to Air Force members who want to have a positive impact on kids’ lives while also having fun.”

Since 2006, YIP has conducted 39 programs in 15 different cities across the country.

Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Ross
Tech Sgt. Richard Gilchrist, 68th Rescue Squadron supply non-commissoned officer in charge, speaks with kids during the Youth Impact Program draft night at Amphitheater Middle School Tucson, Ariz., June 10, 2022. Gilchrist vounteered to be a coach and mentor for the two week YIP summer camp.

“This is about having dreams,” Steptoe said. “This is about dreaming big, this is about seeing yourself being a college student, a college athlete, being in the military, being a CEO…that’s what this camp is about.”

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