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Kuchler, Kenneth
/ Categories: Cadets

Havre youth rises to the challenge.

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt, March 30, 2017

Sixteen-year-old Brallam Ramirez of Havre said the Montana Youth Challenge Academy transformed him from a failing high school student to a certified nursing assistant on the verge of college and a possible military career.

Ramirez said he was into drama - "fighting" - he was skipping school and shy and afraid of talking to people. But all that was before 22 intensive weeks at the academy. MYCA Marketing Coordinator Ron Carroll said from July to December of 2016, Ramirez stepped up to the challenge and is unrecognizable from the old Ramirez.

"He was our top cadet in terms of company leadership. He was the adjutant general's award winner, which is the highest award," Carroll said. "I'm super proud of him."

The academy, established Sept. 1, 1999, for at-risk youth, is a two-phase, academic-based, quasi-military volunteer youth challenge program in Dillon on the University of Montana-Western campus. It aims to assist youth 16 to 18 by helping them develop necessary academic and life skills. Montana Youth Challenge Academy is sponsored by the National Guard and the Montana state government. It is 75 percent federally and 25 percent state-funded and is one of 35 youth challenge programs in the country.

Ramirez said he had seen posters about the programs in stores and heard about it from friends. Weight was a large motivator for joining, he added. A friend had lost a lot of weight in the program, and he, being "pretty hefty" at the time, thought the program might be a good idea, he said.

The first 11 days are known as the acclimation phase, and that, Carroll said, is usually very difficult for those in the program.

"I hated it," Ramirez said.

He had to wake up early, he couldn't talk unless spoken to, and he had to abide by a 15-minute incremental schedule, Ramirez said. Even his bathroom breaks were scheduled.

The turning point happened when he took the Test of Adult Basic Education, or TABE, on which he scored highly. During that time he also transitioned onto the university campus.

His mentor, Virginia Seigel, said she always knew Martinez was smart but he only needed to apply himself. Seigel, a family friend, said her role is a "collaborator of his future." They talk about his goals and how they are being accomplished, she said.

"That year-long mentoring phase after the program is a critical element to our success," Carroll said. "We would not be successful without our volunteer mentors. There's a lot of programs out there that do wonderful things in a residential setting, but then they leave and there's no follow-up.

Ramirez and Seigel do things like run together and talk and help him execute his Post Residential Action Plan, which he developed while in the academy, they said.

Raimirez has a plan and he has a backup plan to that plan, Carroll said. The mentor picks up where the program leaves off after 22 weeks.

The TABE, Carroll said, is the foundation to the program's success.

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