Story by Lt. Col. Cindi King
South Carolina National Guard
The South Carolina National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe Academy celebrated the graduation of its 40th class at a ceremony at the McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina, June 13, 2018.
Standing before hundreds of family, friends, mentors and Cadre personnel, the 65 graduates were recognized for their accomplishment completing the rigorous 22 week program. Thunderous applause echoed throughout the drill hall floor after the last graduate received his diploma and the class was directed to turn their tassels, symbolizing their official completion of the program.
“You will have many more steps, goals, and accomplishments ahead of you,” said LaTonya Reed, Director of the South Carolina Youth Challenge Academy. “I encourage you to keep going, stay focused, and to bring your dreams into reality.”
The South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy is designed specifically for high school students who are at risk. The mission statement on the South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe website states its goal is to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-18 year old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.
Nation-wide, there are 40 National Guard Youth Challenge programs. Eligibility for acceptance includes being a legal resident of the United States, male or female between 16 and 18 years of age, not a convicted felon or under felony indictment, and drug free. It is a National Guard sponsored program, but attendees do not incur any obligation for military service, but solely gain the benefits of physical fitness, discipline, and the daily structure of a military environment.
The South Carolina Youth Challenge Academy operates at the McCrady Training Center on the southeastern side of Fort Jackson. A Post Job Challenge was recently established where graduates attend a five-month program at Aiken Technical College in Aiken, South Carolina, to learn job skills such as welding, manufacturing, and patient care.
“So much of the success for our graduates is for them to continue the lessons they learned from Youth Challenge and advance them to their next goals, whether in school or in the job market,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, Deputy Adjutant General, South Carolina National Guard. “The Post-Job Challenge program has changed lives for our Cadets in knowing they do not need to return to difficult circumstances but can become employed, engaged, and contributing members in their communities.”
Information about the program and the application process can be found at scyouthchallenge.com website. McCarty stated a crucial component to helping the Cadets succeed is through the mentorship program. Information about becoming a mentor is also available on the website.
“The best way we can give back and assist our youth is to be good role models and show them others care,” said McCarty. “Being a mentor for the Youth Challenge cadets makes a tremendous difference for their success while they are in and after they complete the program.”