Cadets are referred to the academy by family, friends, teachers or counselors who want to see the teenagers get back on the right track.
"It is good to get them out of a bad environment and place them into a better one," said recruiting and mentor coordinator Lanny Walls. "This is a good program."
Walls is a native of Dizney and a 1965 graduate of Evarts High School.
The academy was founded in the late 1980s to provide opportunities for young people working to overcome problems in their lives.
The academy's mission to is to provide work skills and alternative learning opportunities to meet the unique individual needs of students in order to increase positive behavioral and academic skills.
"This program is another opportunity for the students to have a second chance at their future," said mentor and Harlan County Sheriff's Deputy Kenny Abner, of Evarts.
The academy follows eight core components in a quasi-military environment during the 22-week phase and a one-year follow-up program.
The courses are filled with life-coping skills, job skills with hands-on training with basic electrical wiring, plumbing, health, citizenship, adult basic education, community service, leadership/followship and physical training.
The academy offers a military program but it is not a recruiting camp for the armed forces. The cadets' future is up to them after they graduate, according to Walls. The GED will qualify them for the military if they choose.
"The GED is only one part of the program. The confidence and acceptance are what the students really want to feel good about themselves," Walls said.
The academy is open to state residents, male or female, between the ages of 16 and 18. Cadets must be high school dropouts, free of illegal drugs, mentally and physically capable to participate and not under an indictment or convicted of a felony offense.
Activities during the post-residential phase include regular contact with a pre-appointed mentor, implementation of the cadet's life plan, help in pursuing further education and stipend management.
"Cadets have better set goals upon graduation," said Abner. "It is a really good opportunity for the struggling youth today."
Four coordinators are located across the state to work with mentors in helping the graduates to either get into a job or school, or to enter the Job Corps as an apprentice.
"We try and keep the teenagers on track," said Walls.
The academy is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the state of Kentucky. Operated by the National Guard Bureau Office of Public Affairs, ChalleNGe is a governor's special project under the office of the adjutant general.
There are no fees to participating youth, and acceptance is not based on income. All cadets receive weekly living allowances.
Several students from Harlan County graduated from the academy in the last year, including: Andrew R. Grubbs, of Harlan; Daniel Abner, of Evarts; William Baker, of Closplint; Joshua Griffith, of Harlan.
Steven Wynn, of Harlan, is in the academy now and is scheduled to graduate in December.