Exceptional Peterson kid competes for Military Child of the Year

  • Published
  • By Fiona Truant
  • Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs

A resident of Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, was named a semi-finalist for Military Child of the Year on Jan. 5, 2022. Collin Williams, the 15-year-old son of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Williams, North American Aerospace Defense Command U.S. Northern Command Joint Operations Center security manager, is one of 15 children who will now be in contention for the title of Military Child of the Year for the Air Force.

The award, organized by nonprofit organization Operation Homefront, spotlights eight military children from around the country each year: one from each branch of the military, plus a separate, interbranch Military Child of the Year Innovation Award. If Collin is selected as the Air Force’s Military Child of the Year, he will receive several awards from the sponsoring organization, including a $10,000 stipend and a laptop.

“It seems like a pretty amazing opportunity. I care mostly about the stipend that comes with it, because that’ll help pay for college,” said Collin. “But I’m also excited because I was nominated for an award, and I can’t really remember being nominated for something this big before, let alone being a semi-finalist.”

Collin’s parents nominated their son for the award after seeing an e-mail from the sponsor organization. They had plenty of material to work with, as Collin volunteers a lot of time and energy for charitable causes. He and Williams volunteer at a local soup kitchen, where he enjoys helping others while also learning cooking skills from his dad. He’s also a member of the youth leadership council for the Colorado branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with whom he helps plan fundraising and awareness campaigns.

“We’re also learning things like entrepreneurship and how to run a nonprofit,” Collin said. “I am a Wish kid myself. I was taken to Orlando, Florida, where we went to Disney World and Universal Studios. When I heard about the YLC, I thought about the opportunity I was given and how cool it would be, for lack of a better term, to pay it forward.”

Collin has an autism spectrum disorder and a chronic physical disorder, and while neither of them is life threatening, both will likely affect him for the rest of his life. He and his family have had a lot of support along the way, thanks in part to the DoD-run Exceptional Family Member Program — he’s one of three program members in his family. EFMP helped connect the Williamses with the resources they needed to not just survive but thrive.

“We provide events and workshops for not only children in the EFMP, but adults, too,” Jackie Wickham, 21st Force Support Squadron EFMP-Family Support coordinator, said. “Topics can vary depending on what a family’s needs are. Quarterly events can be something like adapted martial arts, therapeutic ice skating, equine therapy or anything that may be of interest to families with special needs.”

“The Airman and Family Readiness Center has great resources overall, and Jackie has scheduled so many amazing extracurricular activities that my kids have continued past the camps they attend through EFMP,” said Danielle Williams, Collin’s mom.

With all that said, the Williamses make it clear that Collin’s autism is not a disability. He’s in specialized schooling programs — not because he’s behind, but to meet the needs of his voracious intellectual appetite. At the end of the 2021-22 school year, Collin will complete his diploma and, thanks to concurrent enrollment in Pikes Peak Community College, his associate degree. He’s been a President’s List recipient for three semesters running, and he’s been learning how to code and design computer programs since age seven. While he has yet to confirm where he’ll continue his education — his dream school is Massachusetts Institute of Technology — he intends to earn a degree in computer science.

“I want to use computer science to try to advance mankind, whatever that means,” Collin said. “One of the things I'm currently considering is NASA, to help with robotics and rovers, but also expanding our knowledge of space. I’m also mulling over the idea of doing something environmental with my computer science passion, like helping clean up the environment.”

Beyond his charitable work and academic achievements, Collin is close with his family. He and his younger brother, Ian, are best friends; they’re also both EFMP members and former Wish kids, and they share a love of archery. As noted above, Collin learns about cooking from his father, and he’s also a capable baker, having memorized a gluten-free cookie recipe to make for his mom, Danielle.

“I’m proud of being a military kid,” Collin said. “I’ve lived on a military base my entire life, and the things I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve had getting to see a good chunk of America, has taught me a lot — not only education, but about myself and others.”

When asked what advice he would give to other military children, he said that while it’s been important for him to hold onto his passions and interests, it’s also important to make each new duty station feel like home.

“Try to put a little bit of yourself into your community, but also bring a little bit of your community into yourself,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done every time we’ve had to move. I try to explore. I try to get myself out there and integrate a bit of the culture into my own lifestyle.”

Finalists for Military Child of the Year will be selected in February and announced in March. For more information, go to operationhomefront.org. For more information on the EFMP for Peterson SFB, contact staff at 21FSS_EFMP_FS@spaceforce.mil.