FORT POLK, La. -- When Liam Cervay, 15, and his family moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana, this past May, he was nervous about what his transition to a new military installation would entail.
"I didn't really know what to expect since this was my first military move," Cervay said.
To help with this, Cervay and his family requested to have a youth sponsor -- through the Fort Polk Youth Sponsorship program -- who would walk him through his transition experience and welcome him to the installation.
"We thought it would be a good thing for me to have a youth sponsor to help me out in getting used to and adjusting to all of this," he said.
His youth sponsor is Markleen Moussignac, 16 - who was once sponsored herself, and decided to pay it forward to other military youth moving to Fort Polk.
"It was really amazing for me to have a youth sponsor because, at first, I felt a little out of place. But the more I hung out with my youth sponsor, it brought me out of my shell a little bit more," Moussignac said. "I started feeling included, and that made me want to do that for somebody else. I wanted to make them feel welcome, too."
Cervay said that Moussignac shaped his experience as he moved into a new installation by showing him around the Fort Polk area, explaining how the school system works, getting him engaged in the Fort Polk Middle School and Teen program, and introducing him to new friends.
"She was another friendly face I could go see," he said. "If I had any questions about anything, I would go to her. She would answer them without hesitation and help me out with anything I needed help with."
He said having a youth sponsor to guide him through his first transition to a new military installation was a confidence booster.
"All of this is crazy to me. To have someone to lean on like that, definitely helped out a lot to get me used to all of this," Cervay said. "It's made me better as a person. It's helped me make a lot friends and be more out there."
The growth Cervay has experienced through the Youth Sponsorship Program is apparent.
"It has helped him a lot," said Roberta Cervay, his mother. "It helped him make friends easier and quicker. I can tell that socializing with kids his own age has boosted his confidence a lot."
"He has opened up more to other people," Moussignac added. "He is willing to get out more on the Middle School and Teen program activities that he doesn't usually do."
This is just one of the many success stories stemming from the Youth Sponsorship Program at Fort Polk, which is mandated by public law. The program aims to connect military youth in grades 6-12 moving to Fort Polk to youth sponsors their own age who can get them informed and engaged in their new community.
"It eliminates some of the fear of transitioning -- the fear of change," said Peggy Bluitt, Fort Polk school liaison officer. "The youth sponsors are there assist them if they have any problems. They're people they can make contact with, so they are not feeling alone."
Parents must submit a request form to Bluitt for their children to be assigned a youth sponsor. Then, Bluitt will forward the request to Loretta McGowan, Fort Polk Youth Sponsorship adviser and workforce preparation specialist.
After making initial contact with the incoming military youth, McGowan will connect them with youth sponsors living at Fort Polk who are their own age who attend their schools.
"They look up to the young mentors because they were youth themselves who went through it. The success of the program has been excellent because of the caliber of youth coming in and helping and becoming not only members of Middle School and Teen program, but also the community at large," McGowan said. "They are the resources of tomorrow and they are the stepping up. We're giving them the resources to help the next generation coming up."
McGowan said that the military youth, like Cervay and Moussignac, are prime examples of that.
"Liam is more self-assured and comfortable in the Middle School and Teen program now," McGowan said. "He opened the doors in leaps and
bounds, coming in and helping all the time.
He extended his hand out there from where he came."
"Markleen is a great mentor and someone to look up to," she added. "She's real, genuine and helpful."
The program also consists of a quarterly Progressive Bus Tour for transitioning military youth to be able to experience and explore everything Fort Polk has to offer upon their arrival, as well as youth activities, field trips and more.
Efforts are underway to revamp the Youth Sponsorship Program in the near future, with one of goals being to include even more age groups, according to McGowan. She hopes to see the program continue to grow.
Cervay hopes to play a role in growing the program while he is at Fort Polk.
"I hope to become a youth sponsor one day," he said. "If there are any kids in my situation where they're uncomfortable coming to a new place, I want to be there to help them out if they ever need it."
To request a youth sponsor or for more information on the Youth Sponsorship Program, contact Bluitt by phone at (337) 531-6673 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.