The Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy staff held their first annual “Welcome House” event on Saturday. Hundreds enjoyed tours, speaking with teachers and staff and a meal in the hospitality room.
“I’m happy to be here today and part of this program,” said Jeff Belcher, executive director of field services with the governor’s office. “Josh Coldiron and the program are doing great. It makes a difference in these kids’ lives and we need to continue to support them and the community needs to support them. As long as I’m in Frankfort, I’m going to do everything I can to help with this program. The governor was very happy to be a part of the project when the old Hall Elementary School was purchased for the academy.”
Magistrate Jonathan Pope said he is proud of the academy and the results he is seeing from the cadets attending. “Josh told me 30 cadets from the last graduating class went back to high school,” said Pope. “That’s 30 kids who will graduate from high school that might not have. I think that’s awesome.”
Robert Leo Miller, 5th congressional district director with the governor’s office, said, “It’s exciting to see the smiling faces of cadets” during the event.
“It’s good to see how excited and proud they are of this academy,” said Miller. “Josh has shown proven leadership with what is going on here in his short tenure. I’m glad Harlan County has the chance to have this program and help these kids. Any way the governor’s office, myself, Jeff or Ralph (Souleyret) can help the county to keep this program going we will, because it is one of the best things we have going on at this time in the county. It provides jobs and help for these kids.”
Lt. Col. Ralph Souleyret-Ret, of Catrons Creek, said the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy is a “win, win, win program for the county.”
“The first win is for the 16, 17 or 18-year-old teenager who needs a second chance in life by changing to a positive and better direction for them self through leaning self-control, self-worth and self-confidence,” said Souleyret. “As you saw today during this event, cadets served in the role of tour guides and were polite and knowledgeable in explaining and answering questions from the open house visitors.
“The second win is by helping the school systems address their problem with the dropout rate. There were 30 out of 65 cadets from the first academy graduating class who chose to return to re-enroll in the same school they had previously attended. Some of the other cadets received a GED, became employed or joined the Armed Forces.
“The third win is for each county that has a teenager attending and graduating from the academy. These counties will have a budget gain by not paying extra expenses incurred on teenagers who are into some type of criminal activity or the inability for them to find a job — adding to the unemployment numbers, plus the development of a feeling of low self-esteem and loss of self-confidence.”
Souleyret said Harlan County has “already been greatly rewarded financially with the academy being located here rather than a more centrally located one in eastern Kentucky.
“Several county officials in eastern Kentucky have complimented the program to me and some have asked how they can get a program — especially after learning the academy brings $3 million a year into Harlan County, of which $2.2 million is from federal funding while $800,000 is state/county match funds under a 75/25 percent match funding through the Department of Defence.”
Souleyret said with a change in the law, part of the local match funds will be taken from what the academy will receive from SEEK funds (while at the academy only) as the cadet must already be a dropout from school prior to entering the academy.
“Getting the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy located here in Harlan, staffed and up and running has been the efforts and hard work of many individuals, beginning with Gov. Steve Beshear, locals and others in different parts of the state,” said Souleyret. “Col. Wayne Smith, director of the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy in Fort Knox, is the main reason we have this academy as it was his study which identified the need and his goal to help establish the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy.”
Director Josh Coldiron said he was grateful for the community support shown during the event and hoped everyone enjoyed the tours.
“What we’re doing here is we’re building a better foundation for this county, and the area, by helping these kids have a brighter future,” said Coldiron.
Reach Nola Sizemore at 606-573-4510, ext. 115, email@example.com