MGA Freshman’s “You Matter” Project Helped Him Earn Southeast Military Youth of the Year Honors

Author: News Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, October 7, 2020 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Computing | Pressroom | Honors/Awards | Students | In the News

Cochran, GA

Marlon Grant on #MGA's Cochran Campus. He is the son of Kevin and Sharon Grant of St. Marys, Ga.

Last year, after losing a friend to suicide, Marlon Grant wondered if he could have done more to help him.

“You just feel confused,” said Grant, 18, a Middle Georgia State University (MGA) freshman from St. Marys, Ga. “You start to wonder, ‘Could I have predicted this? Should I have reached out more?’”

Around the same time, another friend of Grant attempted suicide. That incident was part of a rash of suicides and suicide attempts in the community that took place within a relatively short time period.  

Grant decided he needed to do something.

“It popped in my head that people need to be told they matter,” he said.

“You Matter” is the name of the simple yet powerful initiative Grant came up with.  He, with the help of friends, created a series of positive messages and attached them with yellow ribbons to things like new pencils, lollipops, and tubes of blow bubbles. They began distributing the messages by the hundreds to people at schools, in churches, at local festivals and parades, and other events.

The idea is to get an affirming message – “You Are Loved” and “You Belong Here” are two examples – into the hands of someone who might be emotionally hurting at that very moment. A “You Matter” message might just be the jolt that person needs to keep moving forward.  Grant also helped organize some group discussions to talk about suicide prevention.

The “You Matter” project is connected to Grant’s involvement with the Boys & Girls Club at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and was partly behind his recent selection as Southeast Military Youth of the Year. That recognition came with a $20,000 college scholarship, which is now helping him pay for his education at MGA. He is majoring in information technology with a concentration in integrated digital media and game design.

“I’ve known Marlon for six years, and he is one of our shining stars,” said Maria Beaulieu, teen coordinator at the Kings Bay naval base, which partners with the Boys & Girls Clubs to offer events and services to the children of military personnel. “He’s a great role model to the other kids in the club. They love seeing him when he comes back to visit.”

According to the Boys & Girls Clubs website, “Youth of the Year” is the organization’s premiere recognition program. It celebrates young people, ages 14 to 18, for their commitment to community service, academic success, good character and citizenship, and establishing long-term goals. National Youth of the Year is the top honor a Club member can receive.

Military Youth of the Year is a component of the Youth of the Year program designed to recognize outstanding teens served by Boys & Girls Clubs-affiliated youth centers at U.S. military installations worldwide. Grant, whose father is retired from the Navy, was named the Southeast Military Youth of the Year after he went through a series of interviews with judges and wrote several essays, including one describing the “You Matter” project and its purpose.

Grant was speechless when he learned he had been named Southeast Military Youth of the Year and scored a $20,000 scholarship at the same time. “I was in shock, really. But it was exciting.”

He was a finalist for the National Youth of the Year award. If not for the pandemic, his status as a finalist would have earned him a trip to Washington, D.C., and a spot at an awards ceremony held at the Pentagon. The organization held a virtual ceremony instead.

Grant enrolled at MGA this fall. He is based on the Cochran Campus as he pursues his IT degree. He said he chose MGA because he was familiar with the Cochran Campus, having attended summer soccer camps there. The University’s affordability also was appealing to him. Thanks in part to his $20,000 scholarship, Grant has a great chance of graduating with no student loan debt.

Grant joined the Boys & Girls Club at Kings Bay when he was five and stuck with it throughout his high school years. Some of his peers, who drifted away from the club as they got older, used to tease him about his ongoing involvement. 

But Grant now has a $20,000 scholarship to show for his resolve.

“The Boys & Girls Club gives you so many opportunities,” he said. “The people I grew up with there are  like a second family to me.”