Last year's 1st place winner

Ariana-Jahazara D. Mather’s image took first place in last year’s art and essay contest.

Military children move an average of six to nine times between kindergarten and high school graduation. That constant displacement can take a toll. Children in military families experience high rates of mental health, trauma and related problems. About 30 percent reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks during the past 12 months. Nearly one in four reported having considered suicide, according to The Journal of Adolescent Health.

The Armed Forces YMCA provides free or low-cost programs and services to military children and families in an effort to reduce these numbers and strengthen military families.

“As an organization who focuses on strengthening military families, it is paramount we invest in the children. We must provide support and opportunities for children to be children, to provide moments where they can forget the stressors they feel,” Sara Orellana-Paape, executive director for the Lawton-Fort Sill ASYMCA, said.

With its annual “Armed services YMCA Art & Essay Contest” the ASYMCA hopes to give military children a voice and an opportunity to express themselves artistically. It is also designed to serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made by military children.

This year, for the first time ever, all submissions to the contest will be digital.

“Rarely are children ever given a voice to talk about how they feel or what they are feeling. In addition, children often lack the experience to truly name their emotions or have the vocabulary to express how they feel. Art gives them the opportunity to show how they feel, to really communicate their message, no matter the limitations of vocabulary or experiences,” Orellana-Paape said.

The contest is open to the children of military service members in active duty, National Guard or reserves it is also open for the children of retired services members with 20 or more years of service.

Artwork submissions are limited to grades 1 through 6. Artwork will be submitted online and will need to be uploaded as a jpeg or scanned in. There is no limitation on the size or type of art that can be submitted. Any artistic medium is allowed, as well as mixed mediums. Art may be flat or dimensional.

Essay submissions are open to grades 1 through 12. Essays should be no more than 500 words long and should be submitted in either a .doc, .docx, .rtf or .txt formatting. Beyond those formatting requirements, the essay contest is open to all genres including poetry, narratives, short stories and traditional essays.

“Providing positive activities for military children helps them develop hope, work through stress and express their feelings,” Orellana-Paape said. “This project gives military children a voice, it allows them to talk about the challenges and sacrifices families and children make to support the parent serving.”

This year’s theme is, “how has COVID-19 impacted me and my military family?” And entries are open until March 31.

Submissions can be made at

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