Joe P. Asher
With much of the renovation work already accomplished, the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy is on schedule to commence operation.
According to Croley Forester, director of the academy, this is one of the best opportunities available for at-risk youth in the area.
“Last month, a year long study [was done] where they found that each dollar that’s invested in the youth challenge program gets a return of $2.66,” said Forester. “They also show that we have a 91 percent success rate upon graduation.”
While renovations and modifications are still being made to the building, training of staff has already begun.
“They’re training the cadre in here now,” stated Forester. “We brought 20 of them on yesterday.”
For those unfamiliar with the term, Forester explained what cadre are.
“Cadre is kind of like a drill sergeant light,” said Forester. “They’re not hardcore, we’re not trying to make soldiers, we’re not tearing them down to try to build them up, we’re trying to build them up.”
Forester pointed out the cadre will be present during every aspect of the cadets’ time at the academy.
“They are with them 24/7,” explained Forester. “They march, they exercise, they go to class with the kids, everything.”
Though the bulk of the recruiting for the first class is yet to be done, there are some cadets already signed up for the initial run.
“We have about 40 that have been accepted already,” stated Forester. “Normally, you don’t sign up the majority of them until the last two months before the class starts, so May and June will be our big recruiting months.”
The cadets are drawn from a variety of areas and backgrounds.
“We’ve got them from Pikeville to Harlan, Bell, Knox, Whitley all sorts of different places,” Forester explained. “They’re high school dropouts, kids that are at risk, kids that aren’t going to school, 16 to 18 years old, boys and girls. We’re looking for kids that want a hand up, that want a second chance, those are the kids that we can really help.”
While the academy is looking to help kids that are at risk, that doesn’t mean that every teen is eligible for the program.
“We can’t accept them if they’ve got a felony against them, they can’t be court ordered,” stated Forester. “It’s all strictly volunteer for the cadets and their parents at no cost to any of them.”
Forester explained the academy is not designed to be a disciplinary institution.
“What this academy’s about — it’s about helping kids,” said Forester. “This is not a reform school or detention center or anything like this, it’s kids that want a second chance, that volunteer to do it, and come in here and do whatever it takes in the military style atmosphere.”
The academy will commence operations July 8.