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Kuchler, Kenneth
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Bozeman teen gains more discipline, confidence after graduating from academy.

By Whitney Bermes Chronicle Staff Writer

Eric Dobler speaks with enthusiasm and passion about his 22 weeks at the Montana Youth Challenge Academy. "I think it’s probably the most rewarding thing you could ever do," said the 16-year-old Bozeman boy. The recent graduate thrived in the quasi-military environment the Montana Youth Challenge Academy offers its cadets on the campus of the University of Montana-Western in Dillon.× Dobler was one of 82 cadets who graduated from the Montana Youth Challenge Academy last month.

"He’s an awesome young man," said Ron Carroll, marketing coordinator for Montana Youth Challenge Academy. "I think he was going to be successful even having not gone to Challenge. ...I’m so glad to hear we’ve given him additional skills and tools so now he can pass it on."

The all-encompassing program, which is in its 17th year, is for at-risk Montana youth and focuses on physical fitness, academics, leadership, community service, life-coping and job skills, and health, among other things. Montana’s program is one of 35 Youth Challenge programs nationwide and has a staff of more than 50 people.

The idea for Dobler to go came from his parents, he said, as they thought it would be good to get him in a different, more disciplined environment. Dobler found out in June he would be heading to Dillon for the 22-week program in July, something that he wasn’t quite looking forward to. "At first I didn’t really want to go," he said. "I thought it was going to be a lot worse than it actually was." Dobler, who plays hockey, skis and participated in tae kwon do, said the program helped him improve his physical fitness. "I think the physical fitness was a really good aspect," he said.

Another aspect the Montana Youth Challenge Academy prides itself on is the year-long "residential phase" following graduation. That includes each cadet having regular contact with a volunteer mentor they choose. "We rely on them for so much," Carroll said. "I consider them the backbone of our academy." For Dobler, that mentor is family friend Pippin Wallace. "We’re pretty close," Dobler said. "He’s a really positive person. I know he’s really good to talk to."

Now Dobler is back at Bozeman High School as a junior. After high school, he said he is thinking of enlisting in the military, something he hadn’t considered until it piqued his interest at the academy. And he also plans to head back to the next session of the Montana Youth Challenge Academy to speak to the future cadets about his experience and help them through their time in Dillon.

Dobler speaks excitedly about what he learned and experienced during his time. He has new-found confidence, discipline and better physical fitness. And he strives to be a good example for other kids. But Carroll said that’s a trait that has been inside of Dobler all along. "Whether you realize it or not, you’re a role model," Carroll told Dobler. "You were then, and you’re even more so now."

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