Mullen Congratulates Youth ChalleNGe Grads
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
TRENTON, N.J., Aug. 29, 2009 Navy Adm. Mike Mullen congratulated more than 100 high school graduates here who pursued their diploma through a New Jersey National Guard program.
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, congratulates graduates of the New Jersey National Guard Youth Challenge Academy at their graduation in Trenton, N.J., August 29, 2009. The program identifies New Jersey youth who have dropped out of high school and uses military-style training to enhance their life skills and employment potential. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In a ceremony at the War Memorial here today, the 30th graduating class of the New Jersey National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy culminated 22 weeks of hard work and training by earning their high school diplomas.
The 105 youths made a decision to better their lives by joining the program and are now in a position to make a positive impact on society and in their communities, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in his keynote speech before the class and hundreds of proud family members.
“You have been through a tremendous amount in the past months, and I know you’ve been through a great deal before that,” Mullen said. “Let this be only the beginning of what will be a life full of achievements and accomplishments.”
Since 1994, the New Jersey program has helped more than 2,500 troubled-teens transition into young adults. The three-phase program begins with a two-week residential assessment phase at Fort Dix, N.J., followed by a 20-week phase where cadets learn life skills, career development, leadership, community service and physical training. They earn their high school diplomas at the end of Phase II.
“There’s probably nothing more significant, graduates, in your lives than the changes that have occurred over the past few months,” the admiral said. “Continuing to change and grow is difficult, [but] you’ve learned a lot about yourselves. You can succeed.”
The opportunities that follow participating in a program such as this pave way for a better future, he added.
“I can remember being about your age and not having much of a clue about what life would bring, but underpinned with good programs like this, it has great potential to bring good things,” he said. “You’re now in a position to be able to take advantage of what you’ve learned here.”
For many of the teenagers, it was the challenge program or jail. But after participating in the program, the program’s director, ensured the parents in the audience their son or daughter will return home better than when they left.
“Today we give you your kids back, and I think they’re much improved models,” retired Army brigadier general and program director John Nunn said. “I think you’ll see that by the time you get home tonight.”
After today, the cadets now move on to the final phase of the program. They’ll return home but are assigned a community mentor who’s also a graduate of the program. After a year of being mentored and volunteering, the cadets have completed the entire program.
Many will join the active duty military, some will joint the New Jersey Army or Air National Guard and others will attend community college, but all will more than likely continue improving their lives, Nunn said.