'Military Youth of the Year' contest finalist is local teen

If you saw Brandon Shields in a group with his peers, you’d never know he used to be the shy kid.

“I didn't really want to talk to anybody,” Shields says. “I didn't feel like I fit in.”

It’s a common side effect of growing up in the military. Shields has moved four times and spent eight years in Germany. He eventually landed at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, where he found community with the base’s chapter of the Boys and Girls Club.

“I met other teens from other areas and I was just able to network and build my communications skills there,” Shields says.

Shields says during his mother’s eight deployments, he relied on traditional mail to communicate. But he says the pace was slow and the feeling was impersonal.

“So I found this thing called Facetime -something that allowed me to see her face,” Shields says. “This made me feel like she was in front of me.”

And he realized other kids wanted more time with their parents, too.

“I had this ambition to impact my club,” he says. When his local chapter received a $10,000 grant, Shields crafted a plan to build a computer lab to help military kids video-call deployed parents. The project earned him the title of 'Northeast Military Youth of the Year' and a spot as a finalist the national contest.

Unfortunately, Shields didn’t win. But, he handled the loss gracefully.

“I’m just very excited to share my story with the people that are in the audience. Hopefully it's a story that can inspire other youths somewhere,” he says.