25 Years: Guard Youth ChalleNGe Hits Milestone

Washington Report

(October 10, 2017) This month marks the 25th anniversary of Youth ChalleNGe, an education and self-discipline program for “at-risk” youth run by the National Guard and conducted in a military-style environment.

More than 150,000 individuals have graduated from the program in the quarter century since it was funded as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Most of those graduates have gone on to find greater successes, said Kim Folsom-Kuster, the national Youth ChalleNGe program manager at the National Guard Bureau.

“We’ve had youth who went on to become entrepreneurs and business owners, doctors,” she said, “to graduates who have joined the military or pursued college degrees.”

The individual pathway after graduating from the program isn’t necessarily the important part, said Folsom-Kuster. Instead, it’s the skills and tools the program gives graduates in order to succeed, however they define success.

“It really does more than just offer kids a second chance,” said Folsom-Kuster. “For some, it’s still their first chance. It just gives them that chance to succeed, which makes a difference in their entire life.”

The program started with 10 academies, with the first cadets graduating in 1993. Those original 10 have now grown to 40 academies spread throughout 30 states.

As the program has grown in scale, so too has its scope.

“It’s not exactly the same as it was when we first began back in 1993,” Folsom-Kuster said.

During the early years, the focus was on providing a structured pathway to earn a GED certificate, with the underlying military-style environment and discipline providing the overall day-to-day approach and framework.

At many ChalleNGe academies today, students earn a high-school diploma, just as they would at a traditional public high school, or they earn credit recovery, giving them the opportunity to return to the school they came from and graduate with their class, said Folsom-Kuster.

Some of the program graduates include Dr. Joshua Logan, the first Youth ChalleNGe graduate to complete medical school, Mario Chavez, who formed a merchant services company before being elected a parish commissioner in Louisiana and Kyle Stinson, a junior at Tuskegee University who established a clothing line and is the first in his family to attend a four-year university.