A serial volunteer, student named a Military Child of the YearGRAND FORKS — Xander Burch was far behind at birth. However, 18 years later, it’s clear that he has more than caught up.
By: Ryan Bakken, Forum News Service, The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Xander Burch was far behind at birth. However, 18 years later, it’s clear that he has more than caught up.
The latest evidence is the Thompson (N.D.) High School senior winning one of the five annual Military Child of the Year awards from a field of more than 1,000 applicants nationwide. He learned of the honor, issued by the nonprofit Operation Homefront, on Tuesday, his 18th birthday.
Xander was born in England on March 5, 1995, three months premature; he weighed 1.5 pounds.
“When you have a baby that small, it’s touch-and-go,” said his mother, Joanne Burch. “They basically tell you to expect the worst and hope for the best. We got very lucky.”
The only lasting effect of his premature birth is that he wears two hearing aids. Doctors say he eventually will be deaf. Xander not only shrugs off the inevitability of deafness, but credits it for his achievements.
“Because I’m slightly handicapped, it motivates me to push forward,” he said. “I don’t want it holding me back.”
A serial volunteer
The award goes to active or retired military personnel’s children who have demonstrated resiliency, leadership and achievement. This year’s winners get a $5,000 cash prize, a laptop computer and a White House visit in April.
Requirements include the military parent needing to have been deployed overseas for at least 18 months and stationed at a minimum of seven bases. Xander’s father, David Burch, an electronic technician who retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer, met those standards.
Qualifications for the student are good grades and at least 75 volunteer hours in the past year. As an honor student, he meets the first requirement. And, with 430 volunteer hours, he swamps the second standard.
Many of those volunteer hours were logged at the Boys and Girls Club at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D.
“The kid is amazing,” said Dawn Thompson, the club’s director of youth programs. “He does everything from chaperoning field trips with the younger kids to doing the dirty work at the roller skating rink and movie theater to leading food and clothing drives.
“One of the more impressive things was producing a stop-bullying video.”
Xander also has been named “Youth of the Year” at Grand Forks Air Force Base for the second straight year and will compete for the state prize when he returns from Washington, D.C. He qualifies for that award because his mother has a civilian job on the base.
“Our award is for all of his leadership and mentorship of kids,” Thompson said. “He puts a lot of time in and really enjoys it.”
Xander — short for Alexander — doesn’t limit his volunteering efforts to youth. He also has collected items such as DVDs, candy, toiletries and coffee for goodie packages for deployed airmen.
A lesson at 9
Having spent a combined 14 years living in Italy, Iceland and Guam and with his mother being a native of England, Xander has a wider range of experiences than his classmates.
“I have a world map in my room where I put pins in wherever I have lived or visited,” Xander said. “Europe is pretty full of pins.”
It was in Guam, when he was a 9-year-old, that he learned about helping others.
“A typhoon hit and there was a lot of damage,” Xander said. “In contrast, we had so much. So, we took supplies to the villagers.”
In his first month of life, Xander needed 24 blood transfusions, depleting the hospital’s blood bank, his mother said.
As a result, he was featured in several newspapers as a poster child for urging residents to replenish the blood supply.
He has a different favorite story about his premature birth.
“After I was a born, my granddaddy called my parents, saying he had ‘grown a tomato bigger than your son,’” Xander said with a laugh.
However, the tomato likely wasn’t bigger than his new grandson’s heart.