Thursday, December 31, 2015

Idaho Youth ChalleNGe academy is creating new opportunities for troubled teens

By Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter

In a remote corner of northern Idaho’s Clearwater County, there is a place where young people at a difficult time in their life are finding motivation and direction toward a better future. 

The Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy is flourishing in Pierce, a tiny timber town that’s benefiting from the program’s presence there almost as much as the dramatic and inspiring changes that those once-wayward teenagers are experiencing. 

On Dec. 19 in Lewiston, Youth ChalleNGe leaders joined the families and friends of 101 graduating teens. It was the largest class yet for the program established by the Idaho Legislature at my recommendation in 2011 as part of the Idaho National Guard’s mission – thus the capitalized “NG.”

Cadets in the most recent graduating class came from 27 of Idaho’s 44 counties, led by 26 graduates from my native Canyon County. 

Thirteen cadets received their high school diplomas and another 12 earned their GED certificates. Sixteen graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average, and since the Academy started its cadets have averaged academic improvement of more than two grade levels during their 17½ -month residential stays. 

Just as impressive, the latest group of cadets contributed over 4,600 hours of community service valued at $33,524 during their time at the Academy. Since it opened, 333 cadets have contributed almost 20,000 hours of community service in and around Pierce. 

PICTURED: Maj. Gen. Gary Sayler and Academy Principal Bicker Therian present a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating Idaho Youth ChalleNGe cadet at the Dec. 19 graduation ceremony in Lewiston.

There was early uncertainty among some folks about the State of Idaho getting into the business of helping troubled dropouts get their lives back on track. After all, there are plenty of private-sector and even non-profit alternatives. 

But most skeptics came around after seeing what other states have done with Youth ChalleNGe programs and coming to understand the value that such a proven, affordable and accountable option provides for the next generation of voters, taxpayers–fully functioning citizens of Idaho. 

Families and students volunteering for the program are looking for a way to succeed outside of a traditional school setting. At the Academy, cadets learn self-discipline, leadership and responsibility while working to complete their secondary education or re-integrate with their high school class back home. 

Once they leave the Academy itself, new graduates start a 12-month “Post Residential Phase” designed to help them continue their progress. They have Idaho Youth ChalleNGe case managers and community mentors helping them continue their education, enroll in college, begin job training, find employment or enlist in the military. 

For some of these kids, Idaho Youth ChalleNGe is providing them with their first taste of success. And it’s not a Band-Aid that quickly wears off. Fully 80 percent of Academy graduates re-enroll in high school or go on to college, military service, employment or volunteer service for at least 30 hours per week. 

But the real change is in the hearts and minds of the teens who learn how to follow, how to lead, how to respect others, and most of all how to respect themselves. 

That is the real measure of the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe program – how it changes the lives and the futures of adolescents at risk, not by restricting and marginalizing them but by enabling them to enter the mainstream of society with pride in what they have accomplished and the confidence to go even farther. 

Find out more about how the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe is changing lives, families and communities at

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