PROGRAM HELPS BIG ARM STUDENT REALIZE POTENTIAL
July 28, 2017 at 10:59 am | By ASHLEY FOX Lake County Leader
Coby Rodriques said looking back, he realizes he was his own fork in the road. His mentor, Larry Newell, corrected him, saying Rodriques was his own "dynamite in the road," as both started to laugh.
Rodriques, 17, of Big Arm, recently finished up part of the Montana Youth Challenge Academy, where he lived at the University of Montana Western in Dillon for 22 weeks. Newell is his mentor as well as his neighbor. The two have known each other for about two years, after Newell and his family moved to the area from Los Angeles and Rodriques and his family, mom Sandra and sister Cely, 9, befriended the newcomers.
Newell said he took on the mentoring role because "you have to survive your teen years," which can be the hardest part of life. He added that he likes to think he didn’t make the same decisions as Rodriques, but he did because at that age, teens don’t always know how to manage their time.
MYCA is a "quazi-military program," Rodriques explained, that is funded by the National Guard. During the recent graduation ceremony, Newell said that he had to continually stand up as Rodriques received numerous awards for his hard work while at the program. "It’s good for anyone’s self esteem," Newell said of winning awards, as well as it is "a power builder" for mental health.
Joining MYCA in January at 16 years old, Rodriques said he graduated the program with 119 hours when only 40 were required.
Looking back on his actions prior to MYCA, Rodriques said he now has a different outlook on life. The program has helped him become a self-motivator after he realized he needs to keep himself busy to stay out of trouble. "I feel like a little bit too much freedom might go to my head," Rodriques said.
Ron Carroll, MYCA marketing coordinator, explained that the co-educational program is 17 months long with 100 beds. The first five of those months are residential. MYCA focuses on "providing support for youths, ages 16 to 18, primarily those who have left high school without graduating or those" who are struggling to graduate, Carroll said. "We bring them into a two-phase program," Carroll said, adding that the program is residential and post-residential. "This is not a punishment or anything like that." The program, he said, is an alternative to a routine school. A school approach doesn’t always work, so this is an opportunity for education.
Coby Rodriques, right, and Larry Newell, both of Big Arm, have known each other for about two years. Rodriques asked Newell to be his mentor as he enrolled in the Montana Youth Challenge Academy in January. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)As a mentor, Newell checked in with Rodriques four times each month. Each student identifies at least one mentor at the enrollment phase, Carroll said. Federally and state funded, MYCA is free for students, Carroll explained. During his time at UMW, Carroll said that Rodriques was an "overachiever" who was voted by his peers to represent them at week 14.
Going forward, Rodriques said he plans on joining the National Guard after high school graduation, so he can start his adult life "financially stable." "He’s got a great plan," Carroll said.
Newell said he is pleased with Rodriques’ goals and achievements. "His only problem is himself," he said. "Most kids have more legitimate things slowing them. Coby just really needed to wake up and realize that he’s smart enough" to do anything he wants, Newell added. Noting that Rodriques comes from a strong family, Newell said that Rodriques is strong, too.
Rodriques said that his mother is "one of my main foundations," and Newell said that Cely is "9 going on 16," and if he had to bet on her or a mountain lion, he’d bet on Cely. "It was an experience meeting so many different people," Rodriques said of MYCA. Over the course of the residential program, he said he noticed people change.
Peers who resisted authority in the beginning were the best listeners toward the end, he said. "It was definitely a paradigm shift," seeing how people started and finished the residential program. MYCA also helped change Rodriques with how he views others, Rodriques said.
"I used to see people pretty black and white," he said, but while living at UMW, he spent time with people he didn’t think he otherwise would. "I realized there’s nothing wrong with people. It’s the scenarios they’re dealt." He added that "it’s all about coping" with what life gives each person.
Newell said that through his mentorship, he’s learned a few things from Rodriques. He said he realized that Rodriques was interested in his daughter, and rather than scare the teen off with talk about guns, Rodriques jumped in the conversation with enthusiasm. "He asked, Can I shoot it? What else do you have?" Newell said, laughing. Rodriques laughed and said that ultimately, it worked out that the two spent more time together shooting the guns. "We’ve become more friends I think than me and his daughter have," Rodriques laughed.