Rising to the ChalleNGe in West Virginia

Nationwide, the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program transforms the lives of at-risk youth through training and mentoring, empowering cadets with the confidence they need to succeed and the skills to make positive contributions in their communities. Since the program’s inception in 1998, the successes of its graduating cadets are incredibly impressive.

In 2012, 59 percent of ChalleNGe graduates from across the country received their high school diploma or GED, 45 percent joined the workforce, 41 percent continued their education and 7 percent joined the military. Since 1998, cadets have donated nearly 8 million hours of community service during the program’s 16-year duration, state programs have awarded graduates nearly 69,500 academic credentials, and more than 121,000 teens have graduated.

In West Virginia, the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, supported by the West Virginia National Guard, is transforming the lives of our at-risk youth and helping them to become well-educated, confident and disciplined young men and women. Located at Camp Dawson in Kingwood, the Academy leads, trains and mentors our young people as part of a 22-week voluntary residential program and gives them the tools and confidence they need to be successful.

The Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy program helps cadets develop core life skills including academic excellence, life coping skills, job skills, health and hygiene, responsible citizenship, community service, leadership and physical fitness. Cadets also have access to educational resources to help them get back on track and explore career assessment and interest inventories, participate in job-specific skill orientations and receive training at local vocational centers.

During their time at the Academy, cadets are also paired with a mentor from their local community to build an accountability group that will support future plans. Cadets and their mentors share time together off-site – completing community service activities and exploring future career and educational opportunities. These relationships play a critical role in supporting the cadets following graduation and helping them to apply the skills they learned in a real world setting.

Cadets also learn the value and importance of community-needs awareness and giving back to the community, through group and individual community service activities including career exploration. This year, the cadets donated more than 5,300 hours of community service to 22 deserving projects in and around Kingwood.

Through hard work, dedication and perseverance, the cadets of the 42nd graduating class at the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy conquered their own personal challenges, worked hard to receive a good education and enter their communities prepared to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Ninety-six of the cadets passed the high-school equivalency assessment TASC Test, 86 earned a high school diploma and 74 qualified for the Promise scholarship to continue their education.

This year, First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin had the I’m incredibly proud of each and every cadet in this year’s graduating class, as well as the young men and women who came before them – including cadets like Michael Suter of Fairmont.

Before joining the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, Michael was experimenting with drugs and had dropped out of school. After graduating from the Academy last year, Michael earned his high school equivalency, is no longer using drugs and works in his community as a painter.

Michael’s success story is just one of many former cadets have shared with members of the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy staff each year. These cadets are getting off drugs, working hard to earn their degrees and are making a positive difference in the Mountain State.

I salute the West Virginia National Guard, the staff at the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, former and current cadets as well as their families and friends who supported them in their quest to become the best person they can be. At times, rising to the challenge may have been difficult, but they persevered and their achievements will serve them well for years to come.

To learn more about opportunities available at the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, visit www.wvchallenge.org or contact Diana Trickett, admissions recruiting coordinator, via email at dtrickett@wvchallenge.org.