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Local teens graduate Youth Challenge Academy

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Fourteen local teens have graduated the National Guard-sponsored Youth Challenge Academy at Fort Stewart, according to officials with the Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy.

Officials said the young graduates include Justin Allen of Hampton; Joseph Atkinson and Paul Worrill-Glover of Ellenwood; Jeffrey Benefield, Christopher Sallas, Courtney Turner, Latisa Bundy, David Keck, and Daniel Manix of McDonough; Zachary Cheek, Russell Knight and Dejah Jordan of Stockbridge; and Dontravious Duff and Demetrice Miller of Locust Grove.

They were recognized on Dec. 18, at commencement ceremonies held at the Macon City Auditorium in Macon, Ga., for completing the academy. The academy is a 22-week, in-residence youth development program for "at-risk" youth, located at Fort Stewart.

The program assists in reclaiming the lives of "at-risk" youth, to produce graduates with the values, skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults, according to Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ken Baldowski, media relations officer with the Georgia Department of Defense.

The idea to start the program dates back to the late 1980s with Dan Donahue, then the chief of youth programs for the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, according to the academy's web site. Its core components have come to include -- but are not limited to -- imparting upon youth, citizenship, leadership, academics, life-coping skills, and community service.

Baldowski noted the program targets youth who are unemployed, drug- and "law-free" high school dropouts, ages 16-18. It is operated by the Georgia National Guard on two campuses, the original at Fort Stewart near Savannah, Ga., and a second campus at Fort Gordon, near Augusta, Ga. Over the years, he added, the program has graduated nearly 10,000 young people.

To learn more about the Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy, visit the National Guard Youth Challenge Program web site, at www.ngycp.org.