Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 113 cadets

The Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program graduated 113 cadets from Class 36 June 16 at the Naval Air Station Oceana Theater in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities.

The Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program graduated 113 cadets from Class 36 June 16 at the Naval Air Station Oceana Theater in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities. (Photo courtesy of Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program graduated 113 cadets from Class 36 June 16 at the Naval Air Station Oceana Theater in Virginia Beach. David McGinnis, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., Adjutant General of Virginia, and Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, chief of staff of the Virginia Air National Guard, were among those on hand to congratulate the graduates.

Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities.

During the ceremony, several cadets were honored for their performance. Zachary Knight was recognized as Distinguished Honor Graduate and Torrey Jenkins as the Valedictorian of Class 36. Daniel Bailey, Latisha Burgess, Elijah Dobbins, Jasmine Darden, Erick Ramos, Edmund Reynolds, Jr. and Seth Meredith were Honor Graduates.

The award for Overall Leadership went to Elijah Dobbins. Calvin Gardner was recognized for Outstanding Physical Training and Franco Charles for Most Improved PT.

In addition to school work, members of Class 36 completed 11,130 community service hours while in the program. They served at the Oceana Commissary, two grade schools, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, Virginia Beach SPCA, Virginia Beach Aquarium, the Virginia Beach Convention Center and other locations.

“This core component exposes cadets to the value of volunteerism and allows them to experience the impact of their efforts on their community and gain work experience,” said retired Col. Jimmy J. Chandler, Director of the Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy. “Programs work with non-profit organizations, federal and state agencies, and other civic organizations, as well as conservation groups, to identify opportunities for volunteer service.”

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, congratulates one of the 113 graduates from Class 36 of Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program June 16 at the Naval Air Station Oceana Theater in Virginia Beach.

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, congratulates one of the 113 graduates from Class 36 of Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program June 16 at the Naval Air Station Oceana Theater in Virginia Beach. (Photo courtesy of Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program)

Offered free to at-risk teens ages 16 to 18 in Virginia, Commonwealth ChalleNGe is a statewide co-educational program with two components: a 22-week quasi-military residential phase followed by a 12-month post-residential phase.

During the 22-week residential phase, cadet studies center on the eight components of the program- academics, life-coping skills, work skills, citizenship, leadership, health education, physical fitness and community service. Cadets have the opportunity to take the GED test and establish a life plan (continued education, employment or military service) during this phase.

In the 12-month post-residential phase, a stage Class 36 has now reached, a mentor guides each of the cadets as they follow through with the life plan established during the residential phase.

Class 36 started with 156 candidates and graduated 113 cadets, including 19 females, according to Chandler.  Seventy four percent of the cadets achieved their GEDs. All 113 are placed, he said. Fifty of them are heading to community colleges, 15 are returning to high school, three are going to the job corps, three will enter the U.S. Army, and the rest are going to jobs.

Over 3,600 Virginia teens have graduated from Commonwealth ChalleNGe since it started in 1994.