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Youth Challenge Pt. 3: Getting it Together


After making it through a grueling first few weeks, five Central Oregon cadets and more than 100 others started the school aspect of the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program.

At first glance, the classwork mirrors a typical high school education. Cadets work through packets of material in core subjects like English, math, science and social studies, earning school credits along the way.

Unlike their old high schools, though, where these teens have struggled or failed, there are no cell phones, social time or the option of skipping class.

The cadets eat, sleep and breathe their school work. And over time, they discover abilities and talents they didn’t know they had.

?They learn to respect themselves, which helps them in the classroom,? said the school’s principal, Skip Butler. ?They learn to ask for help. They see success in everything they do.?

Work in the classroom, though, is just one component of their education. Cadets also spend dozens of hours getting out into the Central Oregon community, supporting events like the Special Olympics, or just donating blood.

?I’ve been thinking about it and everything we do here helps us,? said cadet Jared Hettick of Culver. ?You have the balanced food, you get your food handler’s card, you get your CPR card, careers — we’re going over our resumes right now.?

And you can’t forget about all the hours these cadets will spend becoming stronger and healthier, through intense physical fitness.

?Everywhere else I’ve been, people have been telling me, ‘Oh you can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ and all this other stuff,? said Mele Carson of Prineville. ?And now that I’m here, I’m realizing that I can do it.?

Getting over mental obstacles is another challenge for cadets.

While other cadets make their way up a steep climbing wall, 19-year-old Nicole Eytchison of Bend nervously waits until the last possible minute to try it.

You might remember that when she came to the program, she said her lack of confidence was biggest hurdle she needed to overcome.

So she finally goes for it, and successfully scales the wall.

?I’m happy that I did it and got it over with, because if I would have sat there and just been like, ‘No, I’m not going to do it,’ then I would have been like, ‘Oh I should have done that,’? said Eytchison.

To get teens to the point where they can achieve their goals, though, the program believes they need to be pushed.

That’s where people like Larry DeMarr come in. He’s one of the men and women in the program called cadre.

?Early on, it’s no business,” he said. “If I bring them in here and I act like their best friend, then I’m not doing them any justice.?

At first, the teens hate them. But as the cadet’s confidence and understanding of the program grows, the cadres will become great friends and mentors.

After three months, most of the cadets are locked in and focused on graduation in June. They’ve also done plenty of self-reflection.

?Since I’ve been in here, me and my family have been getting along a lot better,” said Redmond cadet Anthony Reed. “Especially me and my mom, which means a lot to me, because we haven’t really had the best relationship always, and I think it’s grown a lot.?

?I’m looking back at all the crap I did back home, and — gosh, I was a problem child,? Hettick said. ?Like, I wasn’t a serious problem child, but a problem child.?

?He came home after six weeks, I think it was, and it was like, ‘Hey, I need you to do this’ — and it was like poof, done!? said Jared Hettick’s mother, Traci Sauls. ?And it was like, ‘Who are you?’?

Frank Ayson of La Pine, who once wanted to quit, now can’t stop smiling about the improvements he’s made, inside and out.

?I think I’ve actually like, learned the value of trying harder and actually pushing myself 150 percent instead of that 100 and actually slacking off,? Ayson said.

Ayson’s mother, Shanna Haigler, said, ?I mean, honestly I thought I failed him when I had to arrange to bring him here.”

“Now, seeing him like this, and seeing the pictures on the Website, I know I did right.?

Graduation is just weeks away, and the challenge is nearly complete.

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