FCA program graduates 100 at-risk teens

Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Cadet Sierrah Williams tearfully accepts a $1,000 Raytheon Foundation scholarship from FCA mentoring supervisor and case manager Karilynn Dunmeyer during the FCA Class #48 course completion ceremony at Havre de Grace High School, June 10, 2017. | U.S. Army photo by Rachel Ponder

Hundreds of family members, friends and mentors joined local dignitaries to watch 100 at-risk Maryland teens formally complete a 22-week residential course with the Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, or FCA, during a Completion Ceremony at Havre de Grace High School June 10.

The FCA provides teens ages 16-18, who have withdrawn from high school a second chance at an education. Teens enrolled in the program receive academic, job and life skills training in a structured military-style environment, as well as the opportunity to earn general educational development, or GED, high school equivalency diplomas.

FCA Director Charles Holloway encouraged the cadets of Class #48 to relentlessly pursue their goals.

“Your goals don’t care how you feel. Your goals don’t care if you are tired, they don’t care if you don’t feel like getting up, they don’t care if the lights are off, your goals are your goals,” he said. “This is just your beginning not your end.”

Maryland Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Linda Singh said she was proud of the cadets for reaching this milestone.

“It’s going to be very easy to slip backwards, and you can make the choice as to whether or not you decide to do that.”

Guest speaker Kirklyn Berry, the president and CEO of KB Enterprises and a director of People for People Inc., a non-profit organization devoted to the north Philadelphia community, challenged the cadets to believe in themselves. Success takes work, he said.

“As you go on to what’s next, the only way you can make [something] happen is if you believe it first,” he said. “So, when you return home, every action that you make should be a sign of the belief in what you are doing. But it’s not enough to believe, you have to work at it.”

Berry told the cadets their values will influence their behavior.

“Now you have to make your own decisions, and those decisions have to show you believe.”

Starting a new journey

Cadet Clayvon White, 16, said the program taught him the value of “hard work and dedication” and that he plans to study culinary arts.

“At times I felt like giving up, but then I remembered my family; they never gave up on me,” he said.

His aunt, LaToya White, said she encouraged her nephew with “tough love.”

“I just told him to make the best of it [the ChalleNGe program], and don’t worry about past mistakes,” she said. “I told him, you have a fresh start, just take advantage of it.”

Tai’Sheir Bradford, 17, said she felt “extremely proud” that she completed the program. Her goal, she said, is to pass the GED test and attend college in the fall.

“All you have to do is keep your head up, and have faith in yourself,” she said.

The program included a musical selection by the Class #48 Choir; remarks from cadet spokespersons; the national anthem by the 229th Maryland Army National Guard Band; and the invocation and benediction by MDNG Chaplain Col. Sean Lee.

Members of the Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Class #48 celebrate at the end of the Completion Ceremony at Havre de Grace High School, June 10, 2017. | U.S. Army photo by Rachel Ponder, APG News

Individual awards

The following individuals received $200 awards for individual achievement:

  • Cadets of the cycle: Nicholas Stutzer Jr. and Jasmine Coto-Marin
  •  Most improved cadets: Habib Dokou and Jennifer Lopez
  •  Commandant’s Award for Leadership: Charles Claridy IV
  •  Academic Excellence Award: Edward Monge
  •  Physical Fitness Award: Romel Harvey and Teresa Chambers

Educational awards

The following cadets received awards for continued education:

  •  Odaine Campbell, Kyaw Kelly Jr., Austen Sessomes, Anthony Santos, Tai’Sheir Bradford, and Asia Baker-Stevenson; $500, Triple T Leadership Award
  • Edward Monge; $1,000, Rotary Club of Towson
  •    Jai’lyn Forgy; $1,000, Nancy H. Sevier Scholarship:
  •  Nicholas Stutzer; $1,000, PEDRO 66 Award
  •  Tai’Sheir Bradford; $1,000, Edward St. John Foundation
  •  Sierrah Williams; $1,000, Raytheon Foundation
  •   Coto-Marin and Clayvon White; $1,000, Maj. Gen. Harry Greene Aberdeen Chapter of the Association of the United States Army
  •   Gary Gonzalez,Jonathan Morales, DeLonte’ Walls and Blake Prince; $1,000, Maryland National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Foundation
  •  Timmy Mack Jr.; $5,000, Harford Community College
  •   Asia Baker-Stevenson; $500, The YouthQuest Foundation

About FCA

The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, or FCA, is a tuition-free program which offers at-risk teens an opportunity to learn the skills, education and self-discipline needed to become responsible, productive citizens. The academy has graduated more than 4,000 cadets since its inception in 1993.

To learn more about FCA, visit http://freestatemil.maryland.gov.