ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – People who volunteer as mentors with the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy play a vital role in helping cadets reach their potential.
The Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, or FCA, is a highly structured, military-style program that gives Maryland teens, ages 16 to 18, a second chance at an education. Located on APG South (Edgewood), the residential program teaches cadets valuable life skills and self-discipline, while they prepare for the GED exam.
During the five-month residential phase, each mentor maintains contact with their cadet to encourage them to stay the course in the pursuing their academic and personal goals.
According to FCA mentoring supervisor and case manager Karilynn Dunmeyer, mentors provide a support system to cadets during a critical stage in their lives.
“The kids see their mentor more than they see their parents [during the residential phase],” she said. “So the mentor has to be someone that is reliable.”
Most cadets choose mentors from their community, Dunmeyer said. If a cadet doesn’t have a mentor, then the school will help match the cadet with a mentor. By week 13 of the residential program, all cadets are required to have a mentor.
“I always tell people, it only takes one conversation, and just that one conversation can be a life-changing event for one of these young people,” she said.
Mentors continue the process after graduation. During the “post-residential phase,” the mentor is required to submit a monthly report to FCA, for 12 months. These reports indicate whether the teen is working, has joined the military, or is enrolled in a college or a trade school.
“You can’t just check the box, as a mentor you have to be fully committed and devoted to what you are doing,” Dunmeyer said.
Here are just three of the dozens of volunteer mentors who are making a difference for FCA cadets.
A special educator with Aberdeen Middle School, Dianne Crawford is the spouse of APG Senior Commander Maj. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford. She volunteers as a mentor for Michelle McIntosh, who graduated from the academy in December 2015. McIntosh has a full-time job and plans to attend college. Her long-term goal is to become a crime scene investigator.
“Mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone, other than family, who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter,” Crawford said.
She called mentoring a “fulfilling opportunity,” and said she often tells McIntosh, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
“I encourage her to follow a path to reach her goals,” she said. “If they [the goals] need be adjusted, that is okay too.”
Arthur Justice, a military veteran and retired pastor, mentors his nephew, Harry Jones, who graduated from FCA earlier this year. Jones attends Cecil College where he studies transportation and logistics.
“It was a great experience to watch this young man, who had no hope of graduating from Edgewood [High School]successfully, not only complete the program here, but see him get his Maryland high school diploma [by passing the GED],” he said. “What joy that was; it was very rewarding, It was probably one of the greatest days ever: the day we found out he accomplished everything.”
According to Justice, mentors need to be compassionate and committed to the mentee.
“The main thing, to be a mentor, you need to have real concern for the young adult that you are going to be mentoring and to be there for them,” he said. “To not give up on them.”
Tessa Ricketts, a child care provider from Montgomery County, Maryland, mentors Cadet Dasia Williams, her great-niece. She also helps Williams prepare for the GED during weekly tutoring sessions.
“I wanted to help her realize her full potential and do all I can to help her succeed through the Freestate ChalleNGe program and in the future,” she said.
Ricketts said she is proud of Williams’ transformation.
“Since Dasia has been in the program, she has more confidence and is very vocal on what she wants to do and how she is going to get there,” Ricketts said.
In addition to mentors, FCA also seeks volunteers who can assist during Tuesday tutoring sessions, Dunmeyer said.
Rick Burton, a contractor with Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, provides math and science tutoring.
“A lot of the kids don’t learn from conventional methods,” he said. “Tutors can bring in a different element, a new way to reach the students.”
Those interested in mentoring can request a mentor application at 410-436-3301 or visit http://freestatemil.maryland.gov/mentor/. A criminal background check is mandatory for mentor candidates prior to being matched to a student, and all mentors are required to attend a four-hour training workshop. For more information, call 410-436-3331 or visit the FCA website at http://freestatemil.maryland.gov.