Legion family members attending the 2012 American Legion National Children & Youth Conference saw hope in the leaders of America’s future when they learned about a nationwide program — Young Marines — from a participant.

“In my freshman year of high school I had to make a decision — I was either going to follow my ‘friends’ and go to parties and drink, or I was going to make new friends and let the other ones go. And at 14 years old, that’s one of the hardest things to ask someone to do,” said 17-year-old McCall Behringer from Baltimore, who is the National Young Marine of the Year for 2012-2013. “So at 14 years old I made a decision — a decision I made when I was 10 years old, and I was just reaffirming it — I was going to live a drug-free healthy lifestyle, even if that meant I had to make new friends.”

Young Marines is a nonprofit youth education program for boys and girls ages eight through completion of high school that teaches the values of leadership, self-discipline and teamwork. The objective is to teach young people to live a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. Its principles are based on the ethos of the U.S. Marine Corps — honor, courage and commitment — but, it is not a military recruiting program.

In 2011, Young Marines was awarded a Child Welfare Foundation grant to help expand its Drug-Demand Reduction Program kits. The kits were delivered to the 300 Young Marine units located in communities across the nation where a total of 10,000 youth participate and 3,000 adults volunteer.

“Because of Young Marines, I have learned about leadership and citizenship which has helped me live a drug-free lifestyle, and that’s what I tell Young Marines across the country,” Behringer said. “And because of the money you have donated to us and the support you have given us, that’s a whole lot easier to teach. You are the reason we can keep kids like me in high school from going down the wrong path.”

Young Marines is a proud five-time recipient of the Secretary of Defense Fulcrum Shield Award for its Drug-Demand Reduction Program. The organization thanked the Legion for its help in winning the award.

“Working with these youth and seeing what they can accomplish is awesome,” said Joseph Venable, national deputy director of Young Marines. “With help from the (CWF) grant and teamwork with The American Legion, we have won the Department of Defense’s Fulcrum Shield Award five times. When you look on our website, it should read ‘Together, Young Marines and The American Legion win the 2012 Fulcrum Shield Award.’ I give all of you a hand,”

Young Marine units are always looking for volunteers. Prior military experience isn’t required. To learn more about volunteering with or donating to Young Marines go to http://youngmarines.com/getInvolved.html.