Editor’s note: Military Times has profiled the winners of each service’s Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year award for 2018. All of the winners will be honored Thursday night in Washington, D.C., and will receive $10,000 and other prizes; for more about the award and for links to other honorees, click here.
Often when Isabelle Richards visits a wounded veteran — generally bearing cupcakes — “their spirits and faces light up,” said her mother, Lorraine. But it’s not just about the sweets she’s bringing.
“A lot of these guys are reclusive, but when they see Isabelle it brings out a spark in them,” Lorraine Richards said. “She just has a sweet, caring personality. They’re drawn to her. She’s determined to make a difference, and a lot of times it’s one person at a time.”
The 14-year-old baked more than 8,000 cupcakes last year for her nonprofit group, Cards and Cupcakes Supporting Our Wounded Warriors. She’s always creating different kinds of cupcakes and personalizing them for veterans, her mother said. She’s been baking cupcakes since she was 7.
Isabelle is now an eighth-grader at High Tech Middle School in San Diego, with a 4.0 grade-point average. She said her most important accomplishment has been expanding her efforts to other areas of the country “to support and help other wounded warriors, and encourage them, not just those in San Diego.”
There are 22 additional locations from Florida to Washington state where kids are helping to carry out her mission. “I also feel like I’ve helped other kids be able to help me support them and encourage them,” she said.
She’s also involved in other community service efforts, including the USO San Diego, the Dove Self-Esteem Project (founding and spearheading a local version at her school), and the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station.
In December, her father, Senior Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician James Richards, returned from a nine-month deployment aboard the littoral combat ship Coronado; her mother has been sick for the last year and a half, battling lupus.
“I never had to worry about things” during that time, Lorraine Richards said. “Isabelle and Nate pretty much ran the farm.”
Brother Nate, now 15, was named Operation Homefront’s Navy Military Child of the Year in 2012.
Two of Isabelle’s older brothers are in the Navy, one is in the Army, and another just left the Marine Corps.
“I’m very proud of my brothers and my dad for serving our country, and being so brave and always supporting me even if they’re not home,” Isabelle said.
Her advice to other military kids is to stay busy. “It keeps my mind off of worrying about my parents or my brothers while they’re gone,” she said.
“If you aren’t doing a lot, you have more time to worry about them. If you’re doing more clubs at school or extra sports or helping your mom with chores or volunteering at different places, you don’t have much time to worry about them.
“Challenges can always be flipped around to positive things,” she said. “If you have a positive attitude, that makes a lot of situations more positive, rather than having a bad attitude.”
She has big plans for the $10,000 she will receive: Some will pay for a big party for her wounded warrior friends at Wounded Warriors Freedom Station, some goes to the Dove project at her school, some goes toward cupcake ingredients … and the rest will help pay for college.
“And maybe we’ll have a family vacation if we can get everyone together,” she said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.