A Saturday ribbon cutting ceremony officially marked the opening of the Discovery Challenge Academy, a California National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program to help at-risk teens in San Joaquin County. Area Congressman Jerry McNerney attended and was joined by the California National Guard, San Joaquin County Office of Education, and local elected officials at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program has helped many at-risk young people learn valuable life skills, establish a strong work ethic, and develop a commitment to community service,” said Rep. McNerney. “I’m happy to have been able to help bring this vital, successful program here to San Joaquin County.”
The Discovery Challenge Academy welcomed its inaugural class in January with 116 cadets. The ChalleNGe Program targets teenagers who have dropped out of high school and provides them with the life skills and education needed to help turn their lives around and become productive members of the community. The program is a five-and-a-half month residential program in a military setting. During the academy, students earn 60 high school credits, serve at least 40 hours of community service, and compete for college scholarships.
McNerney was among those who worked to bring the Discovery Challenge Academy to San Joaquin County, advocating for the program in numerous meetings and communications with Army and National Guard Bureau leaders.
McNerney successfully advocated for an additional $10 million in funding for the program in the FY 2014 Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations bill. He also wrote California legislators asking them to approve state matching funds, helping secure an additional $1.5 million for the program. Additionally, McNerney sent a letter to the Pentagon asking for the ChalleNGe program in San Joaquin County to commence.
The Congressman’s efforts also helped the Army and the California National Guard establish a lease agreement for the ChalleNGe program at the Sharpe Army Depot. Before securing this agreement, the Army National Guard had held up the lease contract at Sharpe because of its interpretation of the rules surrounding such acquisitions.
“What the Cal Guard accomplishes with its ChalleNGe academies is as important as anything we do during wildfire season or on the battlefield overseas,” said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, Adjutant General for the California National Guard. “We are a community-based force, and offering these youth a chance to redirect their lives is critical not only to their futures, but to the future of California’s communities.”
Congress established the ChalleNGe program in 1993. Presently, there are 38 programs across the nation, with California being recognized for graduating more than 90 percent of its students. California’s other ChalleNGe programs, Grizzly Youth Academy in San Luis Obispo and Sunburst Youth Academy in Los Alamitos, hold the highest retention rates in the nation.