Last option becomes a new beginning
By Lailani Upham, Char-Koosta News
DILLON — Emonie Couture had made some poor decisions and needed a place to go where she could learn and change her bad habits.
The 18-year old from Ronan found her place in the military structured Montana Youth Challenge Academy.
"I have been to treatment in the past and I wasn’t planning on going back, so MYCA was my last option," said Couture.
She graduated on Saturday, December 16, after six months of physical fitness training, academics, leadership, community service, life coping and job skills — all of which were rigorous and in an intense environment.
Emonie had been living with her great-aunt Marcella White since she was 13.
Emonie’s aunt graduated from MYCA years ago and she saw the difference the Academy made in her life. She took the same step in hopes for a change in her own life.
For 18 years, the MYCA program serves at-risk teens and is known for successfully guiding youth to clearer options for the future, pumping up self-confidence, and challenging youth to reach for their dreams.
The MYCA color guard students retire the colors at the 37th MYCA graduation ceremony on Saturday, December 16. (Lailani Upham photo)
"Cadets come to MYCA for a wide range of reasons. It could be poor grades in school, poor friend group, broken family dynamics, youth not having success in their community, alcohol/drug abuse, or poor life coping skills where youth do not have the knowledge to work through adversity in a healthy way," said Tammy Pittman, MYCA academic counselor.
"Being at MYCA has helped me build my confidence," said Couture.
Emonie says MYCA taught her how to speak up for herself and to not be afraid to go after what she wants.
Senior Cadet Emonie Couture receives her diploma and a handshake from Major General Matthew Quinn at the Montana Youth Challenge Academy graduation on Saturday, December 16 at the University of Montana Western gymnasium. (Lailani Upham photo)
The training was rough and tough but Couture said all MYCA wants to see happen is for the cadet to succeed.
"They help you physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s all up to you and what you take because they offer only what’s best for you and your future," she said.
Emonie said the toughest part of being at MYCA was being around 20 other girls 24 hours, seven days a week who all had their own personalities — and drama.
"At first and it took us awhile for us to get along and start working together as 1st platoon," said Couture.
Cadets enter the University of Montana Western Gymnasium during the 37th graduation ceremony on December 16. Emonie Couture is pictured second to turn left toward stage. (Lailani Upham photo)
It was no secret to Couture’s counselor that she grappled with her living environment with other teen girls. Pittman said Couture’s frustration with perpetual all-girl presence was seeing other cadets not be as motivated as she was.
However, the tolerance level and struggle did not hinder her from making life bonds at MYCA. "The best part of MYCA was the friendships I made. There are people that I’ve met that I will cherish forever. The nights that me and the girls would hang out and talk about life and what our future plans were. There were also lots of laugh sessions. We all got better together."
Not only did Couture work on building relationships in her platoon, Pittman said she had been working on rebuilding relationships with people from back home. There were some she at one time had good relationship with, but the relationship had been broken.
The burned bridges among her "bad choices" lead Emonie to realize she needed guidance and direction to help her continue on a positive path in her future.
As she and her support folks in her life know, Emonie took full advantage of the opportunity MYCA opened for her.
"She had many different successes," said Pittman. Getting good grades was one step that gave Emonie credit in academics to finish high school. "She put a lot of effort and hard work into her academic classes and was a good student," Pittman said.
"She had good leadership ability and took her leadership roles very seriously and was extremely proud of them," said Pittman.
"Throughout the Academy I have been lucky enough to have my great aunt Marci who has been behind me since I started high school. She was the one who helped me get into MYCA and she had been a big support. Also my mentor Jennifer Volkert, who has been more than supportive. She has helped me so much. I am so grateful for her and every thing she has done for me," said Couture.
Emonie Couture is greeted by one of two of her aunties after the graduation ceremony. (Lailani Upham photo)
Her plans are to finish high school and graduate next spring. Couture plans to start college at Portland State or Eastern Washington to study business. She hopes to own a business some day.
"Emonie knew what she needed to work on to get her life on track and to have a better future," said Pittman. She added as a MYCA cadet, Couture was motivated and had a good attitude.
There have been 2,770 MYCA graduates since 1999 including 102 graduates from Lake County overall. There were 74 graduates on December 16.
Emonie Couture’s mother is Lakishia Curley and her grandmother is Brenda Braverock. She also has a little sister named Eyanah.
Senior Cadet Emonie Couture hugs her mentor Jennifer Volkert after receiving her diploma. (Lailani Upham photo)
Senior cadet Emonie Couture sits at attention draped in a navy blue gown with uniform trousers bloused in combat boots during the graduation ceremony. (Lailani Upham photo)