Dec. 27, 2010

Virginia Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program graduates 134 from Class 33 

By Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program graduated 134 cadets from Class 33 Dec. 18 at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is a free, statewide quasi-military program for at-risk teens who have dropped out of high school.

 

Cadets from Class 33 of the Virginia Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program wait for their names to be called during their graduation ceremony Dec. 18 at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

“These are great young people you should be proud of,” Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, the Adjutant General of Virginia, said to the several hundred people who packed the Ocean Lakes auditorium, before turning to address the graduates. “I’m really proud of you and I know all your moms and dads are. It’s an honor to be here as the Adjutant General and this is a great opportunity to mold the lives of these young men and women.”

“You graduates here have been given a second chance at life. Appreciate it,” said Del. Barry  Knight, R - Virginia Beach, the guest speaker at the graduation. “Think about how fortunate you are to have that second chance. You can take this opportunity to continue your education and put it to good use.”

Knight encouraged the cadets to use what they learned at the Commonwealth ChalleNGe and to continue to be respectful, to study hard and to work hard.

“Always act as if you are being watched by someone you respect,” he said. “Your family, your friends and your Commonwealth ChalleNGe family are proud of you today. You earned their respect. Continue to earn their respect.” 

 

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, the Adjutant General of Virginia, congratulates a graduate of Commonwealth ChalleNGe during the graduation ceremony Dec. 18 in Virginia Beach. The cadets of Class 33 contributed more than 13,000 hours of community service to local organizations during their time at Commonwealth ChalleNGe. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

The cadets of Class 33 contributed more than 13,000 hours of community service to local organizations during their time at Commonwealth ChalleNGe. This included helping at local community and fitness centers, assisting with the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, volunteering at the NAS Oceana commissary, doing public cleanup and volunteering at Seatack and Lynnhaven elementary schools. The cadets also assisted with education programs at the Virginia Aquarium, helped to maintain the Virginia Beach Public Schools’ bus fleet, and provided help to the SPCA,Virginia Beach Convention Center and Dam Neck Fitness Center. 

Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities.

“These students came to us seeking to make a change in their lives,” said Col. Thomas M. Early, director of Commonwealth ChalleNGe. “We’ve provided them with the guidance and direction they need to move forward. Each of them has a brighter future today than when they arrived.”

“This program taught me patience and discipline,” said Cadet William Reints from Virginia Beach. Reints plans to attend Tidewater Community College in the spring.   

Cadet Rachelle Bustos from Woodbridge said she will remember the staff and everything they did for her, as well as the new friends she made in the program. She described them as being her new family.

“I learned responsibility and got myself straight,” she said of her time in the program. “Everyone supported me and I learned tolerance of other people and where they’re from.”

 

Del. Barry  Knight of Virginia Beach was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony. A total of 3,426 Virginia teens have graduated from Commonwealth ChalleNGe since it started in 1994. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

Bustos will attend Northern Virginia Community College in the spring and then plans to enlist in the Army on May 20 to be an ultrasound technician.

“You go through life trying to do the right thing and you wonder if people notice. Well I’m here to tell you that people do notice,” Knight told the graduates. “People here today are noticing what you all have overcome and what you have achieved. Please continue to make us proud.”

Offered free to at-risk teens ages 16 to 18 in Virginia, Commonwealth ChalleNGe is a statewide co-educational program with two components: a 22-week quasi-military residential phase followed by a 12-month post-residential phase.

During the 22-week residential phase, cadet studies are centered on the eight components of the program – academics, life-coping skills, work skills, citizenship, leadership, health education, physical fitness and community service. Cadets have the opportunity to take the GED test and establish a life plan – continued education, employment or military service – during this phase.

In the 12-month post-residential phase – a stage Class 33 now has reached – a mentor guides each of the cadets as they follow through with the life plan established during the residential phase.

A total of 3,426 Virginia teens have graduated from Commonwealth ChalleNGe since it started in 1994.
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