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Kuchler, Kenneth
/ Categories: Service to Community

Cadets give back to home communities.

Sarah Dettmer, sdettmer@greatfallstribune.com

Nelly Islas didn’t grow up in a bad home, but bad choices pushed her to a point where she wasn’t sure how bright her future could be. She imagines that if she hadn’t received a helpful push from her mother, she would have dropped out of high school.

Instead, Islas enrolled in the Youth Challenge Academy in Dillon. Youth Challenge is a free program for struggling 16- to 18-year-olds. "I needed to change for myself," Islas said. "I’ve learned responsibility and accountability. I’m planning to go back to high school and then into the job corps and then I’ll go wherever life leads me."

Islas and eight other Youth Challenge cadets visited the Great Falls Food Bank during their Thanksgiving break to give back to their home communities. The cadets are required to complete 40 hours of community service during their five-and-a-half-month enrollment, but most complete an average of 53 hours.

The cadets from Great Falls spent their morning stocking the food bank shelves with food from donation bins. Then, they loaded up backpacks for food insecure students in the community.

"I think it’s important to give back to the communities we came from," 16-year-old Dominque Shaver said. "We’re helping kids in need."

All 85 of the current cadets are volunteering four hours of their Thanksgiving break to their home communities. The cadets live at the Youth Challenge Academy during their enrollment and have limited contact with the outside world.

"Most cadets are here because they’re deficient on high school credits, high school just isn’t working out for them or there are societal issues like bullying or drugs and alcohol," said Michelle Nelon, Post-Residential supervisor. "We’re not trying to take them out of school. We give them a second chance and help them change their way of life."

Youth Challenge is run through the National Guard — but it isn’t boot camp. The quasi-military academy is based on the principles and disciplines of the military, but serves as an alternative school. Youth Challenge is a national program with 35 academies across 27 states.

"It turned it all around for me," 16-year-old Alisha Jaraczeski said. "I’ll be able to have a better future and get a job. It has given me a head start in life."

Follow Sarah Dettmer on Twitter @GFTrib_SDettmer

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