Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced with Major General Max Haston of the Department of Military and Department of Children's Services (DCS) Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich that Tennessee has been approved by the U.S. Department of Defense for a National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program.
The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe is an alternative residential program that offers youth between ages 16-18 who have dropped out of school and have no criminal record the opportunity to learn self-discipline, leadership and responsibility while working to obtain a high school equivalency diploma outside of a traditional school setting. Its implementation is one of the steps in the governor's Public Safety Action Plan.
"This program creates another path to success for some teens who really need one, and it falls right in line with our Drive to 55 goals by helping them earn high school diplomas and making them eligible for Tennessee Promise," Haslam said. "I appreciate our Children's Services and Military departments collaborating in an innovative way to serve these young Tennesseans and our state."
The program is voluntary, focusing on eight core components: academic excellence, physical fitness, leadership/followership, responsible citizenship, job skills, service to the community, health and hygiene and life coping skills. Program cadets are constantly monitored during a three phase instructional period. The cadets begin with a two week acclimation period followed by a 20 week residence phase and 1 year post residence "mentoring" phase.
"This is an exciting time for us at DCS, and the move not only makes way for the Youth ChalleNGe, it gives us an excellent opportunity to roll out our new programs to help our older youth get ready to become more independent," Hommrich said. "They will have new opportunities for learning how to enter to the job market and for continuing their education."
Tennessee's program will be known as the "Volunteer Youth ChalleNGe Academy" and will occupy the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville operated by DCS. The department is moving its current operations at Woodland Hills to the unoccupied New Visions Youth Development Center next door. DCS expects to complete the move by early fall and has been developing Gateway to Independence, a new set of programs specifically tailored for older juvenile-justice youth who are in state custody.
"We wanted to bring Youth ChalleNGe to Tennessee for a number of years, and at long last, the pieces fell into place and we've been able to make it a reality. This is a great day for the youth of Tennessee," Haston said.
The National Guard Youth Challenge was included in Haslam's 2016-17 budget with funding of $5.7 million, of which $4.35 million comes from new federal funds, making the state's investment $1.35 million. The Department of Military expects to have the program staff in place later this fall. The first class of cadets is projected to include 100 students and should begin by mid-2017.
Tennessee's program will be the 40th in the country, joining programs in 29 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.