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Montana youth academy challenges both youth and family
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Montana youth academy challenges both youth and family

Lewistown News | MIRIAM CAMPAN, Reporter | January 18, 2019

Over two thousand eight hundred graduates and their families have met the Montana Youth Challenge Academy "Rise Up" challenge, including one local recent graduate of the program.

Initiated in 1993, the National Guard Youth Challenge Program provides youth opportunities to change their life’s direction, develop strength of character and learn positive life skills to become successful, responsible citizens according to their website.

Cadet Jasmine Mager from Lewistown, along with her family, rose to meet this challenge. Mager, once considered an at-risk youth due to her school grades and facing the possibility of not graduating with her class, began her journey by meeting the eligibility requirements.

Potential candidates must have no felony convictions, not be on probation, and be drug free at enrollment. They must be a Montana resident and U.S. citizen, between the ages of 16 to 18 at enrollment. Further, potential candidates must either have withdrawn from or transferred from their current high school and volunteer for the program. 

Once her eligibility requirements were confirmed, Mager relocated to Dillon, Montana and onto the 100-bed campus of the University of Montana-Western. She then began her first 11 days of the 22-week residential phase at MYCA.  

Gil Stallknecht, grandfather and mentor providing support for Mager said of those first 11 days, "Oh my God.  What did we do?" 

Outreach Coordinator, Ron Carroll, at MYCA reflected on the family anxiety of "Did I do the right thing?"   Carroll said, "We prepare families for heart-wrenching letters from cadets and we reassure them it is normal." Normal, or not, Stallknect said, "Jasmine’s feelings paralleled our own." Mager said, "My initial reaction was ‘I want to go home.’" But, she did not.  After the 11-day initial shock, Cadet Mager reflected on her transition. 

"I was angry," she said. "The military aspect was crazy and the structure was insane. I was not used to that."  She learned, however, to love the structure and discipline. "You can do so much.  It helped me figure out my future job."  

Mager said, "I loved the PT and the drill exercises."  She added, "I love science and when I graduate from high school I want to go on to be an Ag teacher.  I love it.  It’s my passion."

Her mother, Paula Schultz, also noted the growth in Mager.  She said, "I didn’t think it would be so hard her being away. I missed her, but now Jasmine gives me more respect." She appreciates the new level of maturity exhibited by her daughter, "I see more self-accountability in her."

The MYCA brochure states, "The final phase of our Academy is crucial. The Post Residential phase runs for one full year and MYCA prepares mentors and provides continued counseling to surmount the hurdles."

Mager, who now enters this phase, returned to Lewistown on Dec. 15 and will re-enter Fergus High School by month’s end.  She is aware of her potential challenges.  Mager said, "I need to continue with a daily routine and be aware of toxic people who want me to slip back into old habits."

Mager’s exposure to a disciplined lifestyle may factor into her decision to join the military after high school graduation.  "The military is a possibility.  It could help financially." For now, Mager said, "My family is my support."   Her grandmother, Miryam Stallknect said, "We will have family meetings and know God will provide us grace and guidance."

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