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Allison Candelario Commits to Become an Advocate

By Operation Homefront

April 1, 2024

Allison Candelario Recognized as 2024 Army Military Child of the Year®

“Embrace change fearlessly.” That’s the advice of Allison Candelario, Operation Homefront’s 2024 Military Child of the Year® for the Army. She has embodied the adage through numerous moves and deployments and a health crisis that shaped her future.  

Allison, 18, is a senior at Grafton High School in Yorktown, Virginia. She is the daughter of Maria and Sgt. Maj. Daniel Candelario, whose military service spans 26 years across the Army, Marines, and Air Force Reserves. Sgt. Maj. Candelario has been deployed for a total of seven years of Allison’s life and is currently serving in Kuwait. Her brother also serves in the Army.  

Change has been a constant for Allison, whose resilience developed early and strengthened with each of the family’s seven permanent change of station moves. Since Allison was in kindergarten, her family has moved every three years.  

She appreciates the transient military lifestyle for providing “early exposure to the art of adaptation.”   

 “From a young age, I’ve learned to navigate new environments, cultures, and communities. … This adaptability has been a significant advantage,” she said. “Each new assignment is an opportunity to leave a mark, whether it’s by fostering connections, initiating positive changes, or simply being a source of support for others.” 

Allison’s resilience and positive outlook remained strong when, at age 13, she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. With less than 25 cases reported annually in women under 30, she said, she faced the daunting journey from cancer patient to survivor with determination.  

Through the experience and thanks to a team of compassionate surgeons, she learned the value of empathy and began envisioning her future as a physician. 

“My aim is to become a pediatric surgeon who can not only heal bodies but also etch values of empathy into the hearts of patients,” she said. “(My doctors’) commitment to instilling hope transcended medical expertise, revealing the profound impact individuals can have on others. … This experience ignited in me a determination to carry forward the values of empathy and compassion.”  

Allison draws inspiration from singer and actress Selena Gomez, whose openness about her own physical and mental health struggles has raised public awareness about resources and treatment. 

“Her resilience and determination have been exemplary. Her advocacy for mental health and authenticity has saved many lives, inspiring me to be just like her,” she said, adding that the artist’s stories about living with lupus have resonated deeply since a close family member was diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease. 

“Just like Selena Gomez I want to plant seeds into others that will inspire them to grow their own roots into their community,” she said. 

In addition to devoting time to academics and coaching peers on her school’s debate team, Allison logged 880 volunteer hours in the past year, some of it working with a hospital’s surgical intensive care unit nurses, delivering meals to patients, and cleaning operating rooms. For her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she collaborated with women’s health professionals to develop a curriculum for teaching girls about their bodies.  

After high school, Allison plans to attend Virginia Tech and pursue a degree in biochemistry and then attend medical school. Military life has provided a solid foundation on which to build her future, Allison said. 

“The constant change inherent in military life has equipped me with valuable life skills and a fearlessness to embrace the unknown, making the transition to college and beyond a smoother and more enriching journey,” she said. 

Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year program, now in its 16th year, recognizes outstanding teens in each branch of the armed forces for criteria that include their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, and extracurricular involvement while facing the challenges of military family life.  

Collectively, the seven 2024 recipients logged 3,667 volunteer hours in the 12 months before nominations. Altogether, they have experienced 37 permanent changes of station and lived through 247 months of deployments.   

The Military Child of the Year Award recipients will be recognized at a gala in Washington, D.C., in April, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. Award recipients also will receive $10,000 each, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts. 

Service/Leadership Highlights 

  • Member of Grafton High School Student Council Association 
  • Earned 30 college credits as dual-enrollment student at Virginia Peninsula Community College 
  • Captain of the speech and debate team; state champion in dramatic interpretation  
  • Girl Scout Gold Award recipient 
  • Volunteer at Riverside Regional Medical Center on surgery floor, post-anesthesia care unit, and other areas 
  • Spanish, math, history, English, and science honor societies  
  • Volunteer of the Year for the 594th Transportation Company, in the 101st Sustainment Brigade 
  • Over 1,000 hours of community service since third grade 

Favorite Quote: 

“This too shall pass.” – Abraham Lincoln

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