Dec. 27, 2011

Virginia teen program graduates 116 cadets

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen 
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia National Guard ChalleNGe program graduated 116 cadets from Class 35 Dec. 17 on the stage of the Ocean Lakes High School auditorium in Virginia Beach. Ernie Gonzales, Office of the Secretary of Defense Reserve Affairs, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker and Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., Adjutant General of Virginia, were among those on hand to congratulate the graduates. Other National Guard senior leaders in attendance were Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, Chief of Staff of the Virginia Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Janice Igou, Director of Interagency Operations and Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Green, Senior Enlisted Advisor.

 

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker, Maj. Gen Daniel E. Long, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and retired Col. J.J. Chandler, the director of the Commonwealth ChalleNGe, congratulate graduates of Commonwealth ChalleNGe Dec. 17, 2011 at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, a five and a half month 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. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“I am honored to be here, to help celebrate and acknowledge the accomplishments of these young individuals,” said Gonzales. “One hundred sixteen of them have actually completed a program that the studies have shown that in the end they will be productive citizens, that they will continue in with their education, get a job, or move on to doing better things because of the time and talents and service that has been invested, not by the money involved, but by the people involved, especially by the staff of the Commonwealth ChalleNGe program.”

“I think we can all be very proud of what we see up here on stage today,” said Decker. “This is America’s future.

“I also want to thank some of the leadership you see up here on stage today and some of the leadership you see in uniform in the audience,” said Decker. “These folks work night and day on various programs for kids, and various things to keep our military safe and out of harm’s way and we are very, very proud of our leadership in the National Guard because they are the ones that make this all possible.”

The cadets of Class 35 contributed more than 14,000 hours of community service to local organizations during their time at Commonwealth ChalleNGe with an estimated market value of over $103,000. 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 supporting the growth of students 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 the Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation. 

Gonzales noted that the ChalleNGe program is one of the few second chance programs available for at-risk youths to be able to change their lives and continue with their service.

“We look to them to show that the lasting improvements that they have made will continue on based on the skills that they have learned from the staff here at Commonwealth ChalleNGe,” said Gonzales.

 

Cadets of Commonwealth ChalleNGe post the colors before the graduation ceremony for class 35 Dec. 17, 2011 at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. The program graduated 116 cadets from the class. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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.

“When we first got to ChalleNGe, it felt like a different world from what we were used to at home. Coming through the gates was the start of a long road we all decided to walk. No one knew what to expect as we started, but within the first month expectations were set,” said Cadet Stephen Crivello during his graduation address. “Cadre, worked with us day by day so we could achieve these milestones. Everything had a purpose; it was all for the better and it made it us stronger, mentally and physically.

“We have all taken a step in the right direction; there is a forward momentum in our lives right now and we all need to keep it going whether it’s working a job, starting a military career or obtaining a higher education, follow your ambitions.”

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 center 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 35 now has reached – a mentor guides each of the cadets as they follow through with the life plan established during the residential phase.

Over 3,600 Virginia teens have graduated from Commonwealth ChalleNGe since it started in 1994.

Click HERE to return to the top of the page ~ Click HERE to return to the news directory