CLAY NATIONAL GUARD CENTER, MARIETTA—Seven Effingham County teens graduated June 18 from the National Guard Youth Challenge program. Commencement ceremonies were held for Class 2011-36 from the campus operated by the Georgia Army Guard at the Guard Garrison Training Center in Hinesville.
Austin White, James-Hamilton Groover and Joey Salas, all of Bloomingdale; Dillon Neidlinger and William Devereaux, both of Rincon, Meoshe Lester of Georgetown; and Danny Williams of Guyton are among the 215 YCA cadets of Class 2011-36 to complete the program. Commencement ceremonies for this latest group of graduates were held at the Macon City Auditorium before hundreds of families and friends from communities across the state.
During those ceremonies, Georgia Army Guard Brig. Gen. Larry Dudney, director of the joint staff and an Effingham County native, congratulated the estimated 25 members of Class 2011-36 who have chosen to join the military now that they have graduated. It was the biggest group of prospective enlistees he has seen come out of a YCA class in years, he said.
“No matter which branch service you’ve decided on, no matter how long you’ve chosen to serve,” Dudney told the cadets, “you have committed yourself to one of the greatest and oldest professions in the world … the profession of combat arms. Congratulations on the choice you have made. See it through, stay committed and become the leaders we know you can be.”
To entire class, he said, “Whether you enlist, go on to seek higher education or move directly into the job market, stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you have accomplished here today.”
State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece (Dist. 11) delivered the commencement address, telling the cadets she knew of no better way to spend a weekend than among those who had just completed one of the best youth programs in the state or the nation.
“You have worked, played, learned and — at times — even cried together,” Massey Reece told them, “but you stuck with it, saw it through to this day, and because of that, you’re better prepared to meet life’s ‘challenges.’ If you’ve learned anything at all, you have learned not to be afraid to stop, re-evaluate your situation and ask for help when needed.”
The Georgia National Guard operates two Youth ChalleNGe Academy campuses, the one at the garrison training center and the other at Fort Gordon. Between the two campuses, more than 10,000 former “at risk” teens — to date — have graduated from the Youth ChalleNGe program. In March of this year, Georgia celebrated the graduation of its 10,000th cadet since the program began here 18 years ago.
The estimated 22-week National Guard ChalleNGe program is a preventive rather than remedial youth-at-risk program, for teens 16 to 18 years old who are unemployed, drug-free and law-free high-school dropouts. Core components of the program are citizenship, academic excellence (GED attainment), life-coping skills, community service, health and hygiene, skills training, leadership-followership, and physical training.