Youth ChalleNGe Cadets Tour Pentagon, Capitol
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2007 For New Orleans native Myeisha Goldston, it’s all about the attitude – and she used to have a “b-a-a-a-a-d” one, she confessed.
New Jersey National Guard Youth ChalleNGe cadets Nadia Gant, right, and Zenia Arroliga sign the guest book in the Pentagon memorial chapel during a tour, Feb. 26, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Now, though, her attitude and her life have taken a 180-degree turn. Goldston recently graduated from the first phase of the New Orleans’ National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program and was selected to attend the program’s spring director’s conference and awards ceremony here.
Goldston and about 60 other chosen cadets and their sponsors from the 26 ChalleNGe programs across the U.S. and Puerto Rico toured the Pentagon today and had their photo taken with the Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England.
“It was amazing,” Goldston said. This is her first trip to Washington. “I’m a long way from home – I know that.”
For the next few days, the group will tour the typical sites in the capital area and get a chance to sample the city’s dining and shopping venues.
For Goldston, the “heroes and history” here have impressed her most.
Sporting a subdued green jacket and khaki, starched military-style cargo pants with boots, Goldston represents exactly what the ChalleNGe program is all about.
The Youth ChalleNGe program is a 17-month intervention effort that helps 16- to 18-year-olds turn their lives around and develop the skills to be successful. It incorporates discipline, education and counseling to treat the “whole kid,” said Army National Guard Capt. Scott Johnston. He directs one of Louisiana’s three ChalleNGe programs.
“They want to change their lives,” said Johnston. “They just don’t know how.”
A few months ago Goldston realized she was on her way to nowhere, she said.
“I was horrible,” she said. She was all lies and attitude, she admitted. But, Goldston said, she realized she needed to change if she was going to succeed in life.
The priority: change her attitude. That’s exactly what the Youth ChalleNGe program started, she said.
“Whooo, it changed my attitude,” she said, and laughed. “It was too important.”
Now she understands that if she works hard, good things will come, Goldston said. The baby in a family with five brothers and two sisters, Goldston now goes to school to learn the culinary arts. Her dream is to own her own soul food restaurant.
Her mentor is helping her. The 22-week resident program prepares the cadet to be successful, but for the year following, graduates are assigned a mentor in the community who helps them with their goals. Counselors also follow up with the graduates throughout the year.
It’s the mentorship that 17-year-old Mhari Guidry thinks is best about the program.
“They don’t just help you while you’re there. They help you when you’re not there,” said the self-described former problem child. Also from Louisiana, Guidry was displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was then that she joined the program.
Before, Guidry was “destructive and disobedient,” she said. Now she wants to join the Air National Guard and plans to attend college. Guidry was impressed with the size of the Pentagon.
“I had no idea it was this big. There are so many hallways,” she said wide-eyed.
Since the program began in 1993, more than 62,000 former high school dropouts have graduated from ChalleNGe. The program is funded from both state and federal budgets and it is money well spent, said Johnston.
“Now we have a productive citizen – somebody who is going to go to work, pay taxes and not get in trouble with the law,” Johnston said. “This program is perfect for anyone who wants to make a change.”
It was change that senior cadet Wayne Geib was looking for when he entered the program seven weeks ago. Kicked out of the house, and with his parents divorced, Geib was facing a dismal future. His parents referred him to the program, Geib said.
“I was very reluctant. I wanted to stay at home and be a bum,” he said.
Once kicked out the house for being rebellious, now Geib wants to become the picture of self discipline -- a Marine, hopefully an officer. He excels in the physical requirements and academics of the program.
It was in the academy, Geib said, that he realized his true potential.
“I can do so much more with my life, if I work hard,” Geib said.