The Capitol Guardian Youth Challenge Academy, sponsored by the D.C. National Guard, one of 34 nationwide, has been recognized as one of the nation’s most effective and cost efficient programs for at-risk young people.

“The Capitol Guardian youth challenge program provides an educational opportunity for young people who have not been as successful in the traditional educational setting. In addition the program provides leadership, ‘followship’ and life coaching skills that bridge those gaps,” said director of Youth Challenge, Owen Johnson.

Entering its third year, the 22-week community based program is chartered by Congress. Cadets must be drug-free and free from trouble with the law. The residential phase is followed by a one-year post residential phase.

Cadet Michael Howard is currently committed to service at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) and discovered the program through his assignment to the Public Defenders Services Office. In spite of his past mistakes, Cadet Howard took charge of his life by committing to the rigors of the program.

With hard work and determination, Cadet Howard reached the highest level at the Academy as an Honor Corps Cadet and part of the high flying Silver Wings Program. With his continued focus on education, Cadet Howard passed the final practice GED test with a score of 2610 which is a strong indicator that he will pass the final test.

As his life moves on, there will be more hurdles for him to jump and unpredictable challenges in front of him, but he has proven to others and more importantly to himself, that using the gift and talents God has planted in him will lead him to believe that change is possible as he continues to be guided on the path to success.

His goals are to attend college and study business management on his way to being an entrepreneur.

“Often our youth fall victim to situations, conditions, lack of solid decision making, lack of mentorship, and just plain lack of positive role models,” said Johnson, who has a vision to eradicate thoughts of hopelessness and despair from the minds of young people and create enthusiasm about their future. “Our youth have not been as engaged as they should be. I am excited about the challenge to try and provide a program that is advantageous to the youth and get them back on track with life coping skills, mentors and help them to create higher expectations for themselves.”

So many young people give into their circumstances when things do not go as planned, but under the leadership of Major Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, Johnson and other committed staff members, the youth challenge program is dedicated to the growth and development of future leaders of tomorrow.

The youth challenge leadership shows the youth from the beginning that they believe in their talents gifts skills and abilities, however it is up to everybody, including the youth, to work as a team to have their talents manifest.

Johnson mentions a young man who was raised by an aunt and got involved with marijuana, after being introduced to it by his uncle. He dropped out of school and joined the program as a member of class 37. He is now extremely proactive about his future and continues to show gratitude for having a chance to turn his life around. It is significant to note that moments like these keep Johnson and the staff motivated.

The Academy is slated to occupy 28 acres at what was the old Oak Hill detention facility; now it will be the Youth Challenge stomping grounds. “The goal is for us to have our very own program facility; this will allow DC youth residents to be served in larger numbers, and will also increase our partnership/ mentorship with government and community agencies in the District of Columbia,” said Johnson. “This will allow family members greater opportunities to participate during the 5-1/2 month residential phase of the challenge program.”

“Young people have a lot to offer our society and become productive citizens,” said Johnson. It is titled “Youth Challenge” for a reason: it challenges the youth to take charge of their destiny. The program graduated 27 cadets on Dec. 10, 2011.

For more information please visit the capitol guardian youth challenge program website at: www.ngycp.org/state/dc/ 

Kyra O. Davenport

Special to the AFRO