It was only two months ago when Deonnah Edwards received the ultimatum of attending a 22-week Youth ChalleNGe program at Fort Gordon or be released from her grandmother’s care.
The demand was made by her grandmother and guardian, Deborah Ramos, as an ultimatum to get the teen on track with school.
“She was doing wonderful in her school but she was working on trying to make friends,” Ramos said Saturday. “She started trying to please them and almost fell by the wayside, but I told her either you join the Youth ChalleNGe or I would sign you over to the state, and this was her choice.”
Families met with their cadets for the first time Saturday since leaving their teens in the care of cadres and mentors in the 22-week program.
Ramos said she is proud of the cadet and her efforts in the program.
“ChalleNGe is just not for bad kids, or what they call them, it is also for children who are stuck in a family situation where they’ve had to raise siblings, or their loved ones and lost some time in school,” she said. “And that’s her situation, she was a year behind in school but now, come February, she will graduate ahead of her peers.”
For Alyssa Jackson, who plans to finish high school once the program concludes, Youth ChalleNGe presents challenges that are opposite of her caring personality.
Her parents, John and Christina Pukapile, who are Army veterans, said the program exposes her to a new environment that differs from her “outgoing” and “unique” personality.
“Its been difficult for her to step away and have her own time just for a little bit outside of being surrounded by all the girls,” her mother Christina, said. “But she wanted to be here and I just let her know that we’re supporting her all the way and that we’re very proud.”
The September program enrolled 214 cadets. As the program continued through the Acclimation Phase, or Pre Challenge Phase, it lost 17 students. The program now holds 170 cadets “and will hopefully graduate 150 or more on Feb. 24, 2018,” Jarvis Reid, the director for the YCA program, said Saturday.
Among those hoping to graduate is Cadet Marvin Bellamy. As families participated in a variety of activities, which included a tour of the facility, his mother Melissa Daise observed certain changes regarding the cadet’s attitude.
“He’s more mild manner, not hyperactive or compulsive,” Daise said.
Her hopes is that her son continues in the program, graduates and seeks higher education.
“He probably thought it would have been a little bit different than it actually is,” she said. “And I told him it’s not like jail, I mean you have to follow rules but it’s more constructive, and I think that this is what he needed.”