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Ellsworth teen recognized as South Dakota Military Youth of the Year

Ria Gualano, daughter of Lan Gualano, 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, gives a speech against bullying to military children during an “In Their Shoes” parade at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 6, 2016. Ria was named the South Dakota Military Youth of the Year in March and aims to win the national to spread a positive message to inspire youth across the country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sadie Colbert/Released)

Ria Gualano, daughter of Gary and Lan Gualano, Air Force Financial Services Center director and 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, gives a speech against bullying to military children during an “In Their Shoes” parade at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 6, 2016. Ria was named the South Dakota Military Youth of the Year in March and aims to win the national title to spread a positive message to inspire youth across the country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sadie Colbert/Released)

Ria Gualano, daughter of Lan Gualano, 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, is commemorated by Marty Jackley, South Dakota Attorney General, for being selected as South Dakota’s Military Youth of the Year, at Box Elder, S.D., March 21, 2016. For the competition, applicants had to write four essays covering different areas in teen life and their vision for the youth in America. (Courtesy photo by Lan Gualano/Released)

Ria Gualano, daughter of Gary and Lan Gualano, Air Force Financial Services Center director and 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, is commemorated by Marty Jackley, South Dakota Attorney General, for being selected as South Dakota’s Military Youth of the Year, at Box Elder, S.D., March 21, 2016. For the competition, applicants had to write four essays covering different areas in teen life and their vision for the youth in America. (Courtesy photo by Lan Gualano/Released)

Ria Gualano, daughter of Lan Gualano, 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, shakes hands with Dennis Daugaard, South Dakota governor, at Box Elder, S.D., March 21, 2016. The Military Youth of the Year competition is a part of Boys & Girls Clubs of the America's premier youth recognition program for members who promote service to the Club, community, and family; as well as good academic performance, moral character, life goals, poise and public speaking ability. (Courtesy photo by Lan Gualano/Released)

Ria Gualano, daughter of Gary and Lan Gualano, Air Force Financial Services Center director and 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, shakes hands with Dennis Daugaard, South Dakota governor, at Box Elder, S.D., March 21, 2016. The Military Youth of the Year competition is a part of Boys & Girls Clubs of the America's premier youth recognition program for members who promote service to the Club, community, and family; as well as good academic performance, moral character, life goals, poise and public speaking ability. (Courtesy photo by Lan Gualano/Released)

Ria Gualano, daughter of Lan Gualano, 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, submitted her package for the Military Youth of the Year, believing that if she won at a national level, she could use a positive message to the youth across America. Ria earned the award at the state level in March for her community outreach, leadership skills and speech presentations, and will compete regionally next. (Courtesy Photo by Henry Roy/Released)

Ria Gualano, daughter of Gary and Lan Gualano, Air Force Financial Services Center director and 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, submitted her package for the Military Youth of the Year, believing that if she won at a national level, she could use a positive message to the youth across America. Ria earned the award at the state level in March for her community outreach, leadership skills and speech presentations, and will compete regionally next. (Courtesy Photo by Henry Roy/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- A teen from Ellsworth AFB received the 2016 South Dakota Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Military Youth of the Year award in March 21, 2016.

Ria Gualano, daughter of Gary and Lan Gualano, Air Force Financial Services Center director and 28th Comptroller Squadron quality assurance manager, earned the award for her community outreach, leadership skills and speech presentations.

The Youth of the Year Program is the Boys & Girls Clubs premier youth recognition program for members who promote service to the Club, community, and family, as well as carry good academic performance, moral character, life goals, and poise while at the same time demonstrating public speaking ability.

"It's really motivating," Ria said. "We are taught from a young age that we can make a difference if we set our mind to it. Yet, sometimes it's hard to bring that down to Earth on a day-to-day basis and show it."

Ria strives not only for academic excellence, currently ranked #1 with the highest GPA in her Douglas High School Sophomore class, she is also involved in after-school activities, Ria's mother said. She's the type of girl who really goes after opportunities once she's set her mind to something.

In her free time, Ria enjoys writing and has already completed her first novel. She also enjoys the performing arts, to include singing and acting, and was a member of her school debate team and school musical production. She also swam competitively and was the South Dakota state champion from 2013 to 2015.

Even with a busy personal schedule, Ria supports her local community by volunteering as a swim instructor at the Rapid City YMCA. She also transcribes interviews in the oral history department in the Rapid City Public Library.

Yet there are even more goals she aims to accomplish.

"I hope to be able to inspire people in a number of ways," Ria said. "First of all through my contemporary Christian singing and songwriting. I'm also hopeful I can become a decent author. Both avenues give me an opportunity to influence how youth go about things and maybe change their perspectives."

She added she is grateful for the opportunity to represent South Dakota, but her goals do not stop there as she still plans to try to win the national MYOTY competition.

"The reason that I'm going for Military Youth of the Year is because this is a great program," Ria said. "I know that with this responsibility, I could do something good by sharing a positive message to the youth across the country."

Ria may have the chance to represent the state of South Dakota in the national Youth of the Year competition this September in Washington D.C., but she first has to compete regionally in Chicago.

"We're really grateful for our daughter," Ria's mother said. "I know a lot of parents who have troubled teenagers. As a parent, I know we sometimes want different things for our children than they want for themselves. Still, we have to restrain ourselves for the expectations we have for them and allow them to put in the effort."

Ria commented she tries to do her best in everything, and hopes to impact the world in a positive way.

"Yesterday ended with yesterday, and today started with the dawn," Ria Gualano said. "That means no matter what you have been in the past, it's not too late to restart and it's not too late to get up and make a difference."

Ria thanked the Ellsworth Youth Center for nominating her for the award.

"I love the base Youth Center," Ria said smiling. "It's definitely been a place that's shown me how to grow, become independent, confident, and helped shape who I am today."