Being a leader and demonstrating good communication skills is key to reaching today’s youth.

It’s something Leah Ortiz, 17, has learned as a junior staff member at Tolson Youth Activities Center.

Ortiz, a Fort Bragg Family member, has been named the 2017 North Carolina Military Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, as well as the Fort Bragg’s Teen of the Year.

For being named MYoY, she received a $5,000 scholarship from the BGCA, an organization that empowers youth to reach their full potential and become productive, responsible citizens.

According to Shevelle Godwin, a school liaison officer at School Support Services, Ortiz participated in last year’s Teen Summit where she was shown how to use an app to apply for college and subsequently used it to gain admission to college. She has been awarded $40,000.

Ortiz will provide the Speaker Series to teens at this year’s Teen Summit in June.

Not only does Ortiz serve at Tolson, she has also performed in her school choir at Massey Hill Classical School, volunteered at the Salvation Army and at the Fascinate-U Children’s Museum, she said. A senior, Ortiz will attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to likely major in science on her way to becoming a physician.

To secure MYoY, Ortiz had to interview and deliver a speech before a panel of judges. The competition consisted of Ortiz and another youth from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, said SaKeeta James, manager, Tolson YAC.

James said she first met Ortiz as a judge during the 2016 MYoY competition, long before she began working at Tolson.

“It’s just been a pleasurable experience to watch her mature and watch her be a mentor and role model for the younger children,” James said.

The distinction has surprised Ortiz.

“It took me a few seconds to realize that they had called my name. I kind of jumped up and I ran to the stage.”

But, Lewis wasn’t surprised.

“When they called her name, I wasn’t surprised. I just knew what caliber of character she has and how she exudes that and resonates that on an everyday basis,” said Lewis.

“I’m extremely proud of her and I’m happy that she’s investing in her future and she’s taking it seriously,” said Ortiz’s mother, Carmen.

Ortiz, who is the daughter of Staff Sgt. Michael Ortiz, an 82nd Airborne Division Soldier, will proceed to regional and national BGCA MYoY competition. (Each comes with a $10,000 and $25,000 renewable scholarship respectively).

Ortiz feels honored to be named Fort Bragg’s Teen of Year.

“I feel very celebrated and blessed to be recognized and it makes my hard work worthwhile,” Ortiz said. “It is such a good feeling to show my peers the opportunities that are available to them and I hope they see that they, too, can do anything they put their mind to.”

With BGCA, Ortiz said she has learned to speak about her experiences as a military child and her vision for the future.

“We have a chance to prove that we have substance, and that we have a voice,” she said.