"Helping America's youth." Sounds like a good thing for someone to be doing, right? Not something we typically think of our military as being involved in. But, the National Guard is doing just that. Through an effort that is using veteran personnel, and military structure combined with local school district education systems they are providing the Youth ChalleNGe Program. It's a 17-month second chance program for 16-18 year-olds who have dropped out of school.
You might be wondering why I'm writing about this? Glad you asked. A family friends' daughter was recently accepted into the program and asked me to be her mentor. I hadn't heard about the program prior to her applying. Even though I had seen some of the promotional material, and looked at their website, it was much more enlightening to see it firsthand.
Last weekend was 'mentor weekend' and I had the opportunity to see both my mentee and the program closeup. It was encouraging to see her in that setting, and how well she was adapting. We had met for coffee prior to her departure, and she had expressed concern about her ability to keep up. It was a valid concern as their day is scheduled down to the minute. Not anywhere near a typical day previously in the life of this mentee. But she has risen to the occasion, and was visibly more confident in herself.
The staff and program were impressive. Cadets who complete the program have the opportunity to earn up to 10 credits toward graduation requirements, their food handlers license, CPR certification, jobs given during the residential phase that they can use on the resume they will create for future use.
The experience and passion that the staff brings to the program gave me confidence that my mentee is going to make it through this, and come out the other side a stronger, capable citizen able to contribute to rather than drain our society structure and resources. And not only her, but the other cadets enrolled in the program. 'A better Oregon, one youth at a time'. That's their motto, and it's more than just a motto, it's being lived out.
We had a q & a time with 4 cadets who shared a bit of their background including why they chose to enroll, what they were experiencing and learning from the program, and their newly gained confidence to re-enter society with goals (some still developing) in place. There were many similarities to their stories, but in comparison quite varied directions they hoped to head after finishing the residential portion of the program.
The Youth ChalleNGe Program reports that it has undergone rigorous evaluation by MDRC and the RAND Corporation. Both studies demonstrated it is significantly improving the lives and prospects of those who join the program and is cost-effective.
Addressing the issues in our society in a practical and effective way was inspiring to witness, and I am very much looking forward to graduation in June and what lies ahead for these young men and woman with much to offer, but in need of structure and direction!