At 16, Kiya Jacobs has already figured out that life is often more exciting than you'd planned.
Two years ago, when she started volunteering at the Joint Base Andrews Youth Center, Jacobs only hoped to earn the service learning hours required for high school graduation. After a while, she realized that her time at the youth center was valuable beyond that baseline.
"It's turned into giving back and getting involved with stuff. The youth center helps with learning important life skills," said Jacobs. "There are more important things than hanging out with friends."
When not in class as a junior at Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr., High School in Upper Marlboro, Jacobs helps coordinate youth center fundraisers and outreach events to help the homeless and others in need.
"I like being able to organize the things we do: choosing what we're going to achieve and how we're going to do it," said Jacobs. "Unlike other volunteer things, here you can plan it out yourself. You can get up close in shelters and a lot of places. Everything you do eventually pays off."
She also contributes to the youth center by taking photos of events. It's a hobby she has enjoyed since taking a photography class in school last year.
"I like film, because I learned how to develop it in class," Jacobs said.
It was only a matter of time before Jacobs' dual interests won her some acclaim. During a recent kayaking trip the Boys and Girls Club at the youth center took to Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton, Va., Jacobs was one of several participants who took photos of the scenery. She used the youth center's digital camera, instead of one of her own film cameras. Then, on the recommendation of Assistant Youth Director - Youth Programs Matrice Adger, Jacobs submitted two of her photos to a Boys and Girls Club-advertised contest..
"Anything that comes down from 4-H or Boys and Girls Club or the Air Force, we try to get people to submit," said Teen Director - Youth Programs Anne T. Young. "We found the contest on the Boys and Girls Club website."
Young said that youth center members participate in a lot of contests that way.
"You can win prizes while you pursue your interests," said Young. "If they have an interest, we try to take them to experience it more."
Young works with a core group of approximately 40-50 teens at the youth center.
"This was the first time I've really entered a contest. I was really surprised when something came back," Jacobs said.
One of Jacobs' photos, taken from the seat of a kayak, was selected as one of nine winners nationwide in the "Your Jeep Quest" contest. Her photo, captioned, "Liberty to discover a new horizon," earned her an iPod touch. It also won a VIP Jeep Experience for 200 members, volunteers, families and staff of the Joint Base Andrews Youth Center's Boys and Girls Club. The details and date for the group's VIP Jeep Experience are still being determined.
What's not still up for discussion? Jacobs' life plans. She expects to enlist in the Air Force to follow in her father's footsteps, once she completes high school, and perhaps go on to continue her education while serving in the military. She hopes to use her skills as a photographer either as part of her military service or as a sideline career.