Youth ChalleNGe Academy reshapes the lives of nearly 1,000 Idaho teens

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur
  • 124th Fighter Wing

The National Guard Bureau’s Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy is a relatively new program to Idaho and is nearing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s goal of 1,000 graduates by the end of its fifth year. The current class is the largest to date with 135 cadets currently enrolled, scheduled to graduate in December 2018.

What is the IDYCA? Administered by the Department of Defense, it is a cooperative state level program between the Idaho Military Division and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. It is among 40 other programs nationwide.

The primary focus is reclaiming the lives of 16 to 18-year-olds who are at risk or have dropped out of high school, by getting them back on a path necessary to succeed as adults. It prepares cadets for graduation, as a fully state-accredited alternative high school, and provides an opportunity to earn up to 14 high school credits towards their diploma.

Idaho opened the doors to the academy’s first class in January of 2014 in the small northern town of Pierce, Idaho under the command of Maj. Gen. Gary Sayler, former Adjutant General.

“Maj. Gen. Sayler laid the groundwork for the program, which I plan to build upon. One of my goals is to increase the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy Foundation in order to improve the academy’s infrastructure. New barracks, new roofing, and improvements to the laundry facility are among my priorities,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Garshak, commanding general of the Idaho National Guard.

Garshak, along with other state officials, as well as principals from local Treasure Valley high schools, had the opportunity to fly to Pierce in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to visit the facilities, staff and cadets. They were able to tour several classrooms, see the living quarters and eat lunch with the cadets. They concluded their visit by judging a drill and ceremony competition.

“Our military leaders bring state and local officials, school administrators and teachers up to visit the academy and cadets to demonstrate the good return on investment that is happening up here,” said Collier Lipple, executive officer to the adjutant general of Idaho. “When they see firsthand the hundreds of lives this program positively effects each year, the program sells itself.”

Centennial High School principal, Mike Farris, has three Centennial students enrolled in the current class. He took the opportunity to visit with the three cadets and learn about their accomplishments and future goals for graduating the academy.

“I learned a lot about the Youth ChalleNGe Academy and what it is doing for the young men and women that are a part of it. Today was an awesome learning experience for me,” said Farris.

Margaret Flowers is the treasurer of the foundation for the IDYCA. She became involved with the academy because of the positive outcome it had on her personally. This is her second visit to the academy, the first was the graduation of her son.

“My son was in the very first class, Class 14-1. The program saved my son’s life. He turned 18 while enrolled in the academy and if he had not gone through the program, who knows where he would be now, probably homeless. After he graduated, we have a fantastic relationship. He has a full-time job and he can take care of himself. He is doing amazing and I am very thankful,” said Flowers.

The current class, Class 18-2 is in week nine of the 22-week program. The program starts with a disciplined Acclimation Phase, where they learn to adjust to the physical, mental and social discipline the program offers. Not all of the potential cadets can handle this phase, but those who successfully complete the acclimation period continue on as IDYCA cadets and begin the ChalleNGe Phase, or the Residential Phase. This phase emphasizes self-discipline, self-esteem, education and the development of healthy lifestyles.

“I have seen the results and this program saves lives. So many of these teenagers complete graduation and go on to become successful and valued contributors to their communities. Their motto is ‘we believe in second chances' and so do I," said Garshak. "I believe in each and every one of these cadets.”