Story and photos by Capt. Stephen Martin, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
HARLAN, Ky. — “It’s easily one of the hardest and, at the same time, most rewarding jobs on the planet,” according to the Commandant of the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy, which kicked off its first official year this fall.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, adjutant general for Kentucky, visited the newly launched academy in Harlan, Ky. to see how the students and cadre were progressing Nov. 1.
Both Rogers and Tonini received a one-over-the-world overview from the key leadership on the progress of the organization.
“Understanding the dynamics and history of the teenage students here is our biggest challenge,” said the director of the program, Croley Forester.
The academy’s mission is to train and mentor selected at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 18, to become contributing members of society. Based out of the old schoolhouse in Harlan, it’s a 24 hour a day, 7 day week program. The 68 students currently enrolled eat, sleep, and go to school all in the same building.
Gary Lee, the commandant of the academy and a former Guardsman, has been working for the National Guard youth challenge project for the last six years and sees a lot of potential in this Eastern Kentucky program.
“My heart is to see lives changed. The goal of this program is to simply do that for these teenagers.”
To get into the academy requires a lengthy application process and is purely volunteer. Once you’re selected, you spend the next 22 weeks working side-by-side with your fellow cadets re-learning how to “do life” according to Lee. After participants graduate, they are enrolled in a one-year mentor program to help with the transition back into the real-world.
Rogers, also a veteran of the National Guard, had these parting words:
“Stick with the program and great things will happen for you. If you don’t, you’ll always regret it.”
If you want to know more about this program, please visit their official website: https://www.ngycp.org/site/state/ky2/
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