Project Challenge Targets At-Risk Youths

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There are a variety of alternatives for teenagers who find it almost impossible to succeed in the traditional high school classroom.

Among them is the ChalleNGe National Guard Youth Program that is virtually unknown in the Rim country.

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The mission of Project ChalleNGe is to intervene in the life of at-risk youth and help instill education, discipline and values necessary to succeed as an adult.

In an effort to bring the program to the forefront, ChalleNGe recruiter Mike Royer is scouring small-town Arizona towns, like Payson, to spread the word about the preventive program for youth-at-risk.

According to Royer, the program began in the early 1990s when Congress passed legislation authorizing the National Guard to conduct the ChalleNGe program.

The mission of the program is to intervene in the life of at-risk youth and help instill values, skills, education and the self discipline necessary to succeed as an adult.

Royer stresses that the program is not for drug rehabilitation.

"Those who apply must first pass a clean urinalysis," Royer said.

Participants must be 16 to 18 years of age, a resident of Arizona, not on parole or probation and capable of passing a military physical fitness examination.

During the five-month residential portion of the program, the participants live on a Queen Creek campus. There, the goal is to increase the youths' sense of self-discipline and community spirit through a quasi-military style program.

The curriculum includes academic training geared toward earning a GED degree, personal development, health and hygiene, physical training and life skills training.

In the one-year period after graduation from Project ChalleNGe, each student is assigned an adult mentor who serves as a positive role model, coach and friend.

According to Royer, most program graduates use their new skills to either enroll in college, find good-paying jobs or join the military. Some have continued on in the Job Corps.

Nationally, about 29 percent of the program graduates choose to enter military service.

Based on the results of a evaluation of the program done by the Arizona Prevention Resource Center at Arizona State University, Project ChalleNGe has been a success in the state.

The report states, "one year later (after completing the program), 94 percent were engaged in positive endeavors from a group where almost half believed they might otherwise have been in jail, on probation or involved with drugs."

The report also recommended that "Project ChalleNGe be continued as an intervention program in Arizona ... and it possibly expand to reach more Arizona High School dropouts."

The Arizona program graduates about 200-plus students per year but few of them are from rural Arizona.

If Royer is successful in spreading the word about ChalleNGe, that could soon change.

"Our goal is to send more students from this area to the program," he said.

There is no cost to the student or to the student's family for enrollment. The program is paid for by the Department of Defense and is supported by the National Guard and the State of Arizona.

The cost for the entire residential and post-residential program is $14,000 per corpsmember. According to ChalleNGe officials, national incarceration cost an estimated $39,000 per year and juvenile boot camp costs an average of over $30,000 per year.

For more information, contact Royer at (928) 970-1012.

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