Nationwide, nearly 7,000 teens dropout of high school every school day and one in three students who enter high school in this country will not graduate. This is a silent epidemic that puts kids at risk for alcohol and drug use, gang violence, and abusive relationships. These alarming statistics point to why increasing awareness for the Youth ChalleNGe Program is so critical.
Alaska is fortunate to have the Alaska Military Youth Academy, which operates a Youth ChalleNGe Program at Ft. Richardson, just outside of Anchorage. As Co-chairman of the First Spouses Youth Challenge National Outreach Initiative, I am very proud of Alaska’s young men and women who have graduated from the Academy.
The Youth ChalleNGe Program has positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of at-risk youth and has helped high school dropouts get a second chance at life. However, this silent epidemic facing America’s youth is chipping away at the future of so many bright young Americans. Fortunately, some dropouts have a successful option the Youth ChalleNGe Program that currently operates 30 programs in 25 states and Puerto Rico. The program is a voluntary, free, preventive program for 16 to 18 year-olds that gives them the skills and opportunities to finish high school, earn their GED, perform community service, enroll in college, get a job, or join the military. Since the program began in 1993, more than 63,000 young people have graduated nationwide and become productive members of society but sadly, due to lack of programs, thousands more young adults are turned away each year.
Governor Murkowski is currently exploring options for the Alaska Military Youth Academy to expand and start a second Youth ChalleNGe Program in the Fairbanks area, to reach more teens from rural areas. The Youth Academy sets a high standard of achievement and excellence for these teens who choose this path, and with the help of the community, the Interior will have another option to help their young people achieve excellence.
Unfortunately, despite the wide recognition of its mission and accomplishments, some Alaskans and most Americans don’t know about the important work the Alaska Military Youth Academy is doing to help high school dropouts get a second chance. Thousands of teens from around the country that volunteered for the Youth ChalleNGe program say that if they didn’t have access to the program they would be in jail, or even worse, dead. Through this program, over 60 percent of eligible graduates earn their GED or high school diploma. This is a tremendous success rate that is outstanding for programs that work with at-risk youth.
The National Guard Youth Foundation has launched a national public awareness and education campaign to build support for the program and work to save more teens from a destructive path. We have a responsibility as a state and nation, to encourage our young people to be productive members of society; to dream, believe, and achieve their goals. Friday, Sept. 1 the spring class graduated and is now back in their communities ready to be the leaders of tomorrow. I hope you will join our cause and support our young people; there is much more work to be done.
Nancy Murkowski is first lady of Alaska.
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