NEWPORT — A Nokomis Regional High School student who spearheaded efforts to raise more than $22,000 to help an agency that helps homeless veterans with health care issues has become the first teenager ever honored with a top award from the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans.

Felix Thibodeau, IV, 17, and a member of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, supervised about 10 JROTC cadets last summer raising money for VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus and its work with homeless veterans.

From July 20 to Aug 19, Thibodeau and the cadets raised about $15,600, working at tables outside local businesses. During school break in February, they did the same thing, raising another $7,000.

Thibodeau’s enthusiasm for the project came naturally. The Etna native said he has wanted to be in the Army since he can remember.

“I could not have gotten nearly as far as I did without the help of the cadets with me,” said Thibodeau, who is a cadet lieutenant colonel. “We were standing outside for 13-hour shifts in the middle of February. People like seeing high school students getting involved in the community and that goes back to JROTC and the core values it instills.”

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is a nonprofit organization and assistance center for a national network of service providers for homeless veterans, which provides emergency housing, food, health services and job training for hundreds of thousands of veterans each year, according to its website.

In May, Thibodeau was honored in Washington D.C. by the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans. He toured the nation’s capital and spoke at the NCHV’s annual conference.

“I had to give a five-minute speech in front of 500 people — retired generals, senators, congressmen,” Thibodeau said. “It was incredibly humbling to be in front of all those people who have made a difference, and kind of being one of them.”

A junior at Nokomis, Thibodeau joined JROTC his freshman year, but his passion for the military comes from a rich family history. His grandfather, Scott Williams, was in the Navy for 28 years and his uncle was a colonel in the Air Force.

“I’ve always been so driven and so military-oriented,” Thibodeau said. “I’ve been doing everything I can to get to West Point, it’s been my goal since I was young.”

Thibodeau recently sent packets to U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, applying for a congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

While his family is steeped in a tradition of military service, Thibodeau said he was never pressured into continuing that path — for the most part.

“My parents did a good job of letting me get a feel for what we wanted to do,” Thibodeau said. “I mean, they still got me tank sets and stuff for Christmas, but I’ve always wanted to go this direction. I enjoy the structure and the aspect of mentoring and helping people.”

Despite earning prestigious honor at such a young age, Thibodeau insists that being 17 years old should not stop him from trying to make a difference.

“The big thing I hear from high school students is ‘I’m only in high school, how am I going to affect change?’” Thibodeau said. “Age isn’t a barrier for a person to make a difference. The only barrier someone has is whether they want to take it upon themselves to take the initiative and make a change for the cause they believe in.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239 | jscardina@centralmaine.com | Twitter: @jessescardina