For nearly two decades now, the Maryland National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program has played a critical role in the lives of at-risk youth.
Founded in 1993 and held twice a year, the all-volunteer Maryland Guard program is specifically designed to reclaim the lives of at-risk youth and to produce program graduates with values, skills, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults.
According to Linwood White, program coordinator, the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is a preventive—rather than remedial—program that specifically targets unemployed, drug-free, high school dropouts between the ages of 16-18.
White said not all the students will make it to graduation day but added most of the kids that decide not to continue with the program decide for themselves that they don’t want to be there. “We have very few discipline problems, and most of those occur in the first two weeks,” said White.
Students are brought into a structured academic setting that will help them build confidence to become useful citizens and qualify for the General Education Development (GED) credential.
Phillip White is a sophomore from the Columbia, Md. area, who volunteered for the program shortly after moving to the state from Florida with his step-mother. White said he is excited, and at the same time nervous, about the intense 22-week program.
This year’s ChalleNGe program class has 193 teens enrolled from the District of Columbia and Maryland area and is scheduled to graduate in June.
“It is my ultimate goal to be in the military,” said White “but taking orders is the thing I’m most afraid of.”
After graduation, the ChalleNGe students enter a year-long mentoring relationship with specially trained mentors in each youth’s community.
“This is a program that gives students a second chance,” said White.
Text by Maj. Rick Breitenfeldt, Maryland National Guard Public Affairs
Video by Spc. Thaddeus Harrington, Maryland National Guard Public Affairs