NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- A voluntary program at North Little Rock's Camp Robinson is helping at-risk teenagers get their lives back on the right track through a rigorous quasi-military commitment designed to develop character and self-discipline.
The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is sponsored by the Arkansas National Guard. The in-residence program lasts for 22 weeks, followed by a 12-month mentoring program.
The free program is designed to teach Arkansas youth self-esteem. It also guides them to the completion of the General Education Development (GED) program.
"I was having problems with the type of group I was getting into and my surroundings so I thought it would be better to come here to get away from that experience so I wouldn't end up in jail or dead," says participant Herschel Alexander.
Doug Walker is director of Youth Challenge and says that while many of the kids arrive thinking they will learn how to lead, first they must learn how to follow.
Approximately 50 staff members, certified teachers and counselors are assigned to guide cadets through 200 hours of math, reading, writing, science and social studies.
Other features of the program include: physical fitness training, service to the community, work projects, career planning skills, drug abuse awareness, self discipline and leadership training.
"They all come here having their own unique stories but they come here, we become one big melting pot and actually become part of their family," says Walker. "They leave here sometimes in tears, not wanting to leave at all. They make lifetime friends."
The Youth Challenge Program does not end with the cadet's graduation after the 22 weeks spent at Camp Robinson. Before graduation, each cadet is matched with a responsible role model (mentor). The mentor serves as a counselor to the cadet for a period of one year.
Applications for the January 2012 class are now being accepted. Candidates must be 16 to 18 years old at the time of entry into the program, have not completed the GED or obtained a high school diploma, a US citizen or legal resident and a resident of Arkansas, drug free, physically and mentally capable of completing the program and must not possess a felony charge.
You may contact personnel at the Arkansas National Guard Youth Challenge headquarters at 1-800-814-8453 or 501-212-5341 if you have any questions.