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At-risk youth graduate from MD Guard program

By 1st Lt. Dylan Bradford

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. – More than 50 cadets of Class 60 of the Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy graduated from the nearly six-month program at Havre de Grace High School, June 29, 2023.

The program is designed to provide at-risk youth with academic, job, and life skills training with emphasis on positive values in a structured environment to become productive citizens.

“One of the most remarkable aspects of the ChalleNGe Academy is its ability to instill discipline and values in its participants,” said Mr. Timothy Tharp, the chief of staff for the Maryland Military Department. “Through a military-style environment, these young men and women learn the importance of self-discipline, respect, teamwork, and perseverance.”

Cadet Jose Arriaza-Reyes, a recent graduate of the academy, said the staff members and his fellow cadets pushed him to never give up even when faced with challenges. They taught him how to self-motivate and set milestones in order to achieve his goals.

“It shows me that I really can do anything that I put myself into,” said Arriaza-Reyes. “I set my mind straight to the goal that I want and just keep pushing forward because I know I have the motivation and the heart to do it.”

The 22-week program gives students, ages 16-18, a second chance at a GED. During the program at Aberdeen Proving Ground – South, cadets live away from home and are not allowed outside distractions like social media, internet, or cell phones. This year the program celebrates the 30th anniversary of operations helping at-risk youth from across the state since 1993.

“It’s been a bumpy road,” said cadet Dominick Rosado. “There were great days and there were bad days. It’s been a journey. It definitely got me out of my comfort zone and gave me a whole new perspective of life.”

During the academy, cadets were required to do community service as well as group physical fitness events. These group activities built respect and camaraderie among cadets.

“My perspective and the way I look at life has changed,” said Cadet Diego Barbour. “I feel like I’ve achieved something, like I really did something in my life to take a step forward.”

All 54 participants that completed the resident program are slotted to enter the workforce, attend college, or serve in the military, thanks to the career counseling provided by staff members and the support of the Maryland National Guard.

“The success of this program extends beyond the individual,” said Tharp. “We all need to invest in the lives of these young people because we are investing in the future of our state. We are shaping leaders, innovators, and contributors who will make a positive impact in their communities and wherever they choose to serve.”

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