By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – The Pennsylvania National Guard and Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will welcome the first class of Keystone State Youth ChalleNGe Academy here in 2022.
The Youth challenge program is a National Guard Bureau program designed to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16- to 18-year-old students who are in danger of not completing secondary education.
Since the program’s inception in 1993, more than 174,000 young people have completed the ChalleNGe program nationwide. This award-winning program has been recognized as one of the nation’s most effective and cost-efficient programs for targeting youth who are at the greatest risk for substance abuse, teen pregnancy, delinquency and criminal activity.
“This is a fully funded, absolutely minimal cost, residential program that’s voluntary and co-ed, with a built-in 12-month post-residential period to ensure that we’re maintaining contact with those graduating cadets to ensure their continued success,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen Radulski, deputy commanding general-maneuver of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard and program director for the Keystone State Youth ChalleNGe Program in his capacity as a civilian state employee.
The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program currently operates 41 sites in 30 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The program is both federally and state funded. More details can be found at www.ngchallenge.org, and at www.ngyf.org.
“We’ve spent a lot of hours looking at other academies, and how they approached this to get what we need,” said Radulski, a native of Williamsport, Pa.
Fort Indiantown Gap was selected to host the academy specifically because it is a nexus of resources and infrastructure for the DMVA and PNG to provide life support and maintenance functions, in addition to the potential for partnership with all the National Guard units present here.
“There is such a great depth of support here, and we can partner with the National Guard for training opportunities, life skill development, using the leadership reaction course,” among a range of courses and training sites, said Radulski.
Initially the KSCA will occupy a cluster of 10 renovated World War II-era barracks, which are currently being renovated using a mix of state and federal funds. They are projected to be completed in the spring of 2022.
A state-funded building is also currently under construction that will have a cafeteria, gymnasium, medical facility and extra classrooms which will serve as the hub for the complex. The area was formally a mixed-use office area used by the DMVA and Pa. National Guard Joint Force Headquarters.
The program will begin with 200 cadets per year and 100 per class minimum graduation target. The capacity will be up to 138 cadets per class, with 96 of them male and 41 female.
Though there is a structure, doctrine, and policies established by NGB, and dozens of other academies throughout the United States, every state is unique in what it has to do to get the program up and running.
“The National Guard is in every state and has a presence in so many communities,” said Radulski, which means it has the capabilities and the trust needed to work with educators, community leaders and teens to make the program a success.
The planning and construction for the KSCA has been ongoing since 2019. The next step is staffing; working with state partners to craft the job descriptions for up to 56 new positions.
“We really want to be one of the premier residential voluntary programs in Pennsylvania, to be a life-changing opportunity for teenagers to help them find success and be contributing citizens as they enter adulthood,” Radulski said.