I live a mere 10 miles from Grizzly Youth and have driven by this program many times since my relocation to California six years ago. It is amazing to me that I never took the time to visit this fine program offering. Located on the sprawling Camp San Luis Obispo campus, just a few miles from San Luis Obispo, CA, Grizzly Youth Academy was founded in 1998. The program, called Program Youth, ChalleNGe Academy, was designed to help young adults gain the discipline and life coping skills necessary to succeed in their communities. The program, one of 34 National Guard Youth Challenge Programs across the nation, was designed to help young adults gain the discipline and life coping skills necessary to succeed in their communities.
The program accepts 16 to 18 year old youth and is fully voluntary. The program is reserved for those youth who are ready to accept responsibility for their lives. The following are the criteria for enrollment into Grizzly Youth Academy:
- a legal resident of California
- 16 to 18 years of age upon enrollment
- a high school drop-out or at-risk of dropping out
- significant credit deficiencies
- unemployed or under-employed
- free from illegal drugs/substances
- free from any serious involvement in the juvenile justice system and no felonies
- physically and mentally capable of completing the program.
To address these issues, the ChalleNGe program consists of three phases, a 2 week Pre-ChalleNGe phase, a 20 week Residential Phase, and a 12 month Post-Residential Phase.
The first phase requires the "Cadets" to undergo the rigors of military style training, although it is not considered a boot camp. During this phase, the Cadets are up in the morning at 5 A.M., and often earlier, completing physical training and learning the military procedures and practices. While rigorous, it is not an "in your face" boot camp model. Nevertheless, the physical expectations are high and designed to assess the Cadet's capability of handling the discipline in order to complete the program successfully.
The Residential phase consists of 20 weeks and focuses upon academic achievement, emotional and physical training based upon leadership, followship, community service, job skills, academic excellence, responsible citizenship, coping skills, health, hygiene and physical fitness. The Cadets attend school, participate in group psychosocial skill building activities, 12 step-meetings for those who can benefit, and achieve their completion of individualized goals. All activities are designed to strengthen the Cadets physically and mentally. During this phase, Cadets can earn one full year of high school credits in half the time it would take in their school of residence. Some may complete the GED or the California High School Equivalence.
The final phase is a one year follow up where Cadets are expected to have a mentor to provide support in helping the Cadets find work, enroll in school, continue to build upon what they learned at the Program and achieve their goals.
I spoke with several of the cadets and participated in a tour for prospective Cadets and their families. The Cadets talked about how much they have gained since enrolling in the Academy. All had fallen behind in school, some were involved in alcohol and drugs and most had extremely strained family relationships. They spoke of returning home on their two home visits over the 20 weeks and how their family relationships had improved. A common theme was the feeling of accomplishment and how their old peer group activities were no longer a strong influence upon them.
They appeared to demonstrate pride in their accomplishments and felt they would be less influenced by negative peers. The group of Cadets I spoke with sounded like, looked like and talked like a good number of young people that consultants work with every day. The big difference was that many ethnic backgrounds and those with varied social-economic backgrounds were represented. One Cadet volunteered that he was from a high-social economic background. He told me the background of his fellow Cadets gave him a significantly positive experience and broadened his perspective on life.
I asked the staff how many Cadets are headed for the military. The tour guide stressed the goals are to improve academic standing and help young people develop discipline required to be successful in life. There is no interest in recruiting future military personnel. In fact, even if the Cadet is 18, parents must approve any contact by military recruiters.
Upon enrollment, only two or three percent of the new candidates have any interest in going on to a military career. Upon completion of the program, roughly 15% may enter military service. By contrast, over 50% of the graduates enroll in community colleges upon completion of the program. It was stressed that Grizzly Academy is not a "feeder" system for the military.
Those Cadets who qualify for this program can enroll and participate free of charge. This is a good option for many young people.