National Guard February 2011 : Page 32

THE BATTLE TO SAVE AMERICA’S YOUTH The real tough part for most in the Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe program begins after graduation. That’s when a good mentor can make a difference By Andrew Waldman HE NATIONAL GUARD Youth ChalleNGe Program graduated its 100,000th cadet just a few weeks ago. It’s a major milestone for the program that began in 1993 to help troubled teens find the right path and earn a high-school degree in the process. But while completion of the in-residence phase of the program ( box, page 33 ) is a wonderful thing, it means Someone to Lean On T little if the youngster returns to his or her old habits when suddenly free of imposed structure. That’s why a 12-month mentoring program is required for all who com-plete the academy coursework. But the ChalleNGe program men-toring philosophy is different from other similar programs. Instead of having a mentor assigned, cadets may choose someone they know to assist C ARING Rita Kane-Doerhoefer with one of 17 ChalleNGe cadets she has mentored. 32 with their continued progress. Anyone over the age of 21 (some states prefer 25) who does not have a criminal record and is not an imme-diate family member is eligible, says Alesia Johnson, the mentor coordina-tor for the South Carolina Youth Chal-leNGe Academy. She says extended family mem-bers seem to have the best chance at success. “They have more invested in caring about their cadet,” she says. “It’s their blood.” Each mentor is required to com-plete training that includes both online and classroom work. This al-lows mentors to learn what to expect, Johnson says. Cadets and mentors are officially paired during the 13th week of the residential phase. At that point, men-tors begin to exchange letters with their mentees, Johnson says. Once the cadet becomes a gradu-ate, contact with the mentor is regular. They must meet for at least four hours each month during the first six months. There is no minimum con-tact requirement after that. Mentors are to report to the state coordinator about their interaction and the former cadets’ progress. These reports are used when apply-ing each year for continued funding, so they are important measurements of the program’s success. Mentors can interact with their ca-dets in any way they see fit, including text messages, phone calls or face-to-face meetings, says Amy Steinhilber, the recruiting, placement and mentor coordinator at the Youth ChalleNGe Academy in Washington. “Any single kind of contact you can get the student to do is good,” she says. Robert Clarkson is working with a graduate of the South Carolina acad-emy he met when he was a volunteer with the program. His mentee recently moved to North Carolina, requiring Clarkson to make accommodations. “Since I’ve been doing it, I have learned to text,” he says. “Nobody calls me after nine o’clock unless someone is dying or dead, but I have had to change that rule.” Some mentors take students into New Mexico ChalleNGe Academy | Na tional Guard

Someone to Lean On

Andrew Waldman

THE BATTLE TO SAVE AMERICA'S YOUTH<br /> <br /> The real tough part for most in the Guard's Youth ChalleNGe program begins after graduation. That's when a good mentor can make a difference<br /> <br /> THE NATIONAL GUARD Youth ChalleNGe Program graduated its 100,000th cadet just a few weeks ago. It's a major milestone for the program that began in 1993 to help troubled teens find the right path and earn a high-school degree in the process.<br /> <br /> But while completion of the in-residence phase of the program (box, page 33) is a wonderful thing, it means little if the youngster returns to his or her old habits when suddenly free of imposed structure.<br /> <br /> That's why a 12-month mentoring program is required for all who complete the academy coursework.<br /> <br /> But the ChalleNGe program mentoring philosophy is different from other similar programs. Instead of having a mentor assigned, cadets may choose someone they know to assist with their continued progress.<br /> <br /> Anyone over the age of 21 (some states prefer 25) who does not have a criminal record and is not an immediate family member is eligible, says Alesia Johnson, the mentor coordinator for the South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy.<br /> <br /> She says extended family members seem to have the best chance at success. "They have more invested in caring about their cadet," she says. "It's their blood."<br /> <br /> Each mentor is required to complete training that includes both online and classroom work. This allows mentors to learn what to expect, Johnson says.<br /> <br /> Cadets and mentors are officially paired during the 13th week of the residential phase. At that point, mentors begin to exchange letters with their mentees, Johnson says.<br /> <br /> Once the cadet becomes a graduate, contact with the mentor is regular. They must meet for at least four hours each month during the first six months. There is no minimum contact requirement after that.<br /> <br /> Mentors are to report to the state coordinator about their interaction and the former cadets' progress.<br /> <br /> These reports are used when applying each year for continued funding, so they are important measurements of the program's success.<br /> <br /> Mentors can interact with their cadets in any way they see fit, including text messages, phone calls or face-to-face meetings, says Amy Steinhilber, the recruiting, placement and mentor coordinator at the Youth ChalleNGe Academy in Washington.<br /> <br /> "Any single kind of contact you can get the student to do is good," she says.<br /> <br /> Robert Clarkson is working with a graduate of the South Carolina academy he met when he was a volunteer with the program. His mentee recently moved to North Carolina, requiring Clarkson to make accommodations.<br /> <br /> "Since I've been doing it, I have learned to text," he says. "Nobody calls me after nine o'clock unless someone is dying or dead, but I have had to change that rule."<br /> <br /> Some mentors take students into their homes. Jess Merritt and Sheri Jones, who work with the New Mexico program, have had cadets live with their families.<br /> <br /> "If they return to the environment where they came from, their [bad] behavior will continue," says Jones.<br /> <br /> Clarkson says mentoring can be frustrating at times. "You have to establish a relationship that is completely different than that of the cadre [at the academy]."<br /> <br /> Finding out exactly what that relationship should be is tough, often a result of trial and error. And the mentor's role can be vast. He or she has to be an authority figure, a friend and a career counselor who can help navigate the complex world of job or college applications.<br /> <br /> Although the program prefers the cadets to choose their own mentors, that's not always possible. Some cadets simply don't have a stable adult they can lean on. So, each state has volunteers who step in when that happens.<br /> <br /> Merritt and Jones have each become "freelance mentors" through a service organization called Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in Roswell, N.M.<br /> <br /> Another New Mexico mentor, Rita Kane-Doerhoefer, may be the most prolific mentor in the nation. She has mentored 17 cadets.<br /> <br /> "Miss Rita," as she is known to cadre and cadets, got involved after working as a tutor in the New Mexico academy. She saw students who could use a positive adult role model.<br /> <br /> "They were basically out there on their own and they needed someone they could rely on," she says.<br /> <br /> Kane-Doerhoefer says she always tries to steer her cadets into further education or the military, places where they will have opportunities to succeed.<br /> <br /> Despite the effort to match cadet and mentor, success is no guarantee.<br /> <br /> Merritt, Jones and Kane-Doerhoefer say the residential phase overshadows the difficulties awaiting cadets afterwards. They are thrust back into the environment that spawned their troubles in the first place.<br /> <br /> Kane-Doerhoefer says at least half of the 17 cadets she has mentored have stopped contacting her, been in trouble with the law or have gone back to their old habits. But others have gone on to attend college or join the military. Merritt and Jones have had similar results. However, Jones adds, "If you can rescue one child, even just one, you have been successful."<br /> <br /> Nationally, the data indicates the program is helping rescue thousands. Approximately 95 percent of graduates join the military, the workforce or continue their education.<br /> <br /> Of course, many of those who can be counted as program successes also have their setbacks.<br /> <br /> Clarkson is a tireless advocate for the academy in South Carolina and has been appointed by the state's adjutant general to help "reformulate" the program and expand it. He also admits that he gets something out of it, too. "When you make that connection as a mentor, it makes you understand how important it is," says Clarkson. "No matter how much I give, I get it back. My sense of self-worth, my self-esteem, my standing in my community are all enhanced because I helped."<br /> <br /> Andrew Waldman can be contacted at (202) 408-5892 or at andrew.waldman@ ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> "When you make that connection as a mentor, it makes you understand how important it is."<br /> – Robert Clarkson<br /> <br /> Mentor, South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy<br /> <br />

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