National Guard's Youth Challenge Program Helps At-Risk Arkansas Youth

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Last week the federal government announced it's no longer considering housing migrant children at the former Ouachita Job Corps facility in Royal. Members of Congress hope the property could be used for a different purpose, creating the Arkansas National Guard Job Challenge program. It's an expansion of the current Youth Challenge Program. 
The Youth Challenge Program is for teens 16-18-years-old that have dropped out of high school or are looking to drop out.
The Arkansas National Guard says not only does it educate the at-risk youth, it helps them become productive members of society. 
It may look like military basic training, but they aren't solders preparing to protect their country, they're Arkansas teens learning to protect themselves. 
Nellie Vasquez, 18, from Batesville is one of just over a hundred in the current Youth Challenge program. 
"I just feel like if I use it all to my ability I can go far in life," said Vasquez. 
She says where she is today is much different then where she has been. 
"I got into drugs and stuff and so I just wanted to make myself a better person and have a better future," said Vasquez. 
The National Guard aims to reshape the path for the at-risk youth. 
"I've learned to have integrity and do the right thing when nobody is watching," said Jeremy Stinson, who is in the program. 
However, it's not all easy. 
"At first, the two weeks were really difficult because I had to get used to the routine," said Kennedy Raynor, who is also in the program. 
However, they stuck it out and feel as if they are better already for it. 
"I found discipline. I have a positive attitude," said Raynor. 
"I felt really accomplished because I have never been able to finish something that I started," said Vasquez. 
When the five and a half month program is over, some leave with their GED, others go back to high schools, and a few plan to go to the military. 
"I want to be in special forces, green beret," said Stinson. 
Vasquez wants to go to college. "I want to major in social work and minor early childhood development."
It's a goal she doesn't know if she could reach if she wasn't here. 
"I can see a change in myself, but I know I still have a long way to go," said Vasquez. 
This class will graduate in the summer. There are two programs each year. The National Guard's goal is to graduate 100 students in each class.


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