Youth for Troops
Six teens are helping the military one care package at a time
By Ron Sanzone
A group of teens is proving there isn’t an age restriction to show appreciation for those who are serving all of us.
Youth for Troops is an Anthem-based nonprofit that works to improve the lives of veterans and active-duty servicemen and women. The organization was founded in 2017 by six local schoolchildren who comprise its current board of directors: Taylor Piatt, 19, Heather Piatt, 17, Hannah Piatt, 14, Sophie Hoffa, 17, Walter Hoffa, 16, and Leo Hoffa, 14. The three Piatts of Anthem are siblings, as are the three Hoffas of Tramonto.
The board members created the nonprofit after helping other organizations committed to helping the armed forces. Those groups encouraged them to branch out on their own so they could contribute in an even more meaningful capacity.
“We’ve been doing military events and volunteering for military personnel since we were really little,” Sophie says. “We started this organization because people under 13 sometimes aren’t allowed to volunteer at events. We wanted to get all ages together to serve, such as families, and young kids with older people.”
“We love to get youth involved, but all of our projects are intended to be for people of all ages,” Heather says. “Zero to 120 is what we like to say.”
Youth for Troops helps a multitude of ways. Among them are packing and sending care packages with cards to troops deployed overseas, holding flag lines at military funerals and participating in medal ceremonies at VA hospitals.
Perhaps Youth for Troops’ most unique — as well as environmentally conscious — effort is providing plastic mats made entirely out of plastic bags to homeless veterans. The mats are 700 to 800 plastics bags crocheted. Youth for Troops partnered with Daisy Mountain Veterans to provide the mats after the departure of the latter’s head, Mary Ann Derryberry, who started the practice in 2016.
The six mostly homeschool students started Youth for Troops as an extracurricular activity with five adults. It has since blossomed into a charity that stages monthly events with up to 100 volunteers and an email list of 1,400 individuals of all ages. And it has done this without a marketing team or budget.
“We really only grow by word of mouth, so we try to get our volunteers to tell others,” Hannah says. In addition, “we do a lot of networking events.”
To bring awareness of the group, the board members conduct interviews, man volunteer booths at various events and visit schools and businesses. The school presentations are particularly effective in creating a pipeline of volunteers because once students become involved they spread the word to their friends and family, who often end up volunteering as well.
“It has grown so rapidly because people are excited and engaged,” Tonya says. “These kids have found an area that people are excited about. People want to support our troops, people want to support our veterans, they want to do something with their kids.”
The volunteers’ largest and most frequent event is the monthly care packing event. Donations of food and hygiene products are sorted and then packed into boxes, along with cards of appreciation, before being shipped off to service members overseas. In July, Youth for Troops marked a milestone by sending its 2,000th care package. And some of the recipients of those packages have sent replies.
The volunteers receive thank-you letters that are then posted on social media.
“In their letters they say that they really appreciate the boxes, that it boosts morale and that it’s nice to hear people back home are thinking of them,” Taylor adds.
The care packages aren’t cheap to send out. Youth for Troops is spending a minimum of $1,500 a month for the care packages alone, and the kids are responsible for it.
“According to our stats, these kids have offered enough community service projects with volunteers signing in to have 12,500 total volunteer service hours accumulated by our volunteers.” Tonya says. “And they fundraise all of the money to do these events on their own and luckily they’ve paid their bills every single month.”
The board members and volunteer donations have been significant, but none of the Youth for Troops’ accomplishments would be possible without community support. Schools have held donation drives, Postnet of Anthem and Storage at Anthem have set up boxes on their properties to receive in-kind donations and the Anthem Area Chamber of Commerce, Phoenix Metro Chamber of Commerce and Southwest Veterans Chamber of Commerce have sponsored and welcomed Youth for Troops as members of their organizations.
Individuals and businesses help Youth for Troops help military members. In addition to the in-kind drop boxes, monetary donations can be made on the charity’s Facebook page or website. For $30 a month, businesses can join the Sponsor a Hero program. The participating businesses fund monthly care packages and are recognized on Youth for Troops’ newsletter with a thank-you message next to the company’s logo and a link to its website.
In addition to, or in lieu of, financial support, Youth for Troops needs more volunteers as it expands. And despite its name, the organization seeks and needs adult volunteers no less than youth volunteers.
“I think the biggest misconception for Youth for Troops is that it’s only for the youth,” Tonya says. “I think the parents think they need to drop their kids off or that if they’re over the age of 12 they won’t enjoy this. We have almost as many adult volunteers as we have kids.”
The challenge with Youth for Troops is the current board of directors will not remain school-aged children indefinitely. Still, the board knows the source of its successors.
“I think we all agree that one way or another we will probably all still be involved, but we obviously can’t be as involved as we are now,” says Taylor. “We’re kind of bringing up the next generation of board members. We have a lot of kids involved who volunteer with us who we think will end up filling in and taking our spots after we leave.”
If Youth for Troops’ future leaders grow as much from their experience as the six cofounders have, they will be well-prepared for adulthood. Tonya says she has marveled at the social skills, public speaking skills and work ethic.
“Honestly, hearing them tell stories after events of their experiences, I think they’re growing emotionally, too,” she says. “I think they’ve each had personal experiences with our veterans and our military that have inspired them. I think they’re going to take this experience with them into school and into the workforce and do great things.”
For more information on Youth for Troops, visit its Facebook page or its website, youthfortroops.org.