NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Wake up, make your bed, go to physical training, eat breakfast, go to class, go to another round of physical training, eat, sleep and repeat – that’s the reality of dozens of teenagers at the Arkansas National Guard Youth Challenge.
“You can gain a lot of stuff from this program,” Cadet Keinan Welch, 16, said.
At 16 years old, Cadet Welch’s mother enrolled him into the Youth Challenge program. It’s an alternative education program for teens who have either dropped out of high school or were on the verge of dropping out and were looking for something new, like Cadet Branshode Williams.
“I was glad I made the decision to go ahead and come before it was too late,” Cadet Williams said. “I feel like I got a stronger mind now and I can make good decisions.”
The program is five and a half months long and is based off a military structure. That means the cadets live in the barracks but are granted passes to visit with their family. The ultimate goal is to graduate from the program with a GED and change for the better.
“It’s impossible to come here and stay for five and a half months and leave the same. You won’t because you’re going to have more respect, more self-discipline, more confidence, that ‘I can do’ attitude,” Hugh Leavell, Youth Challenge community outreach director, said.
Youth Challenge has impacted more than 5,000 teens’ lives. Cadet Lajaeda Brooks and Cadet Welch both said they have already noticed a change in themselves in the few short weeks they have been in the program.
“I’m a very talkative person, so I’m used to talking even when an adult is talking to me. I had to work on not talking back,” Cadet Brooks said.
“I got more respectful to other people because usually, I was rowdy. I liked to fight people if they talked a certain way to me, but now I know how to control my anger,” Cadet Welch explained.
Youth Challenge is currently enrolling for its next class, which begins in July. The program accepts kids who are between 16 and 18 years old and live in Arkansas.
Call 1-800-814-8453 or visit the Youth Challenge website for more information.