The Magazine of the NJ National Guard
Volume 32 Number 2
v32 n2 contents

Guardlife Index

ChalleNGe Youth - Changing Lives Like Mine
By Cadet Steve Matias, New Jersey National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy
Cadet Stephen Matias (2nd from left) and the NJ National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy Public Affairs staff (l-r, back row): Cadets' Jesus Torres, Matias, Jose Ramos, Robert Gaworski, Jasmine Pittman and James Shade. Front row (l-r): Cadets Luis Valle and Meghan Criscione. Photo courtesy NJYCA.
I was cutting class; hanging with the wrong crowd; I severed any good ties I had and I cut myself out from my family. By the time I realized where I was headed I was completely lost.

Many would say I was a screw up, a loser and a disappointment, but lucky for me I found the New Jersey National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy (NJNGYCA). The NJNGYCA is a New Jersey National Guard supported youth program at Fort Dix designed to give high school level dropouts a second opportunity at life.

As a Youth ChalleNGe cadet, we have the eight Core Components and the Honor Code to abide by. This covers anything from staying out of a fellow cadet’s area to not lying. But there's more. The core components consist of subjects like educational excellence, life coping skills and responsible citizenship. These, along with the honor code help the staff enforce a structured environment.

One of the major opportunities that ChalleNGe offers is the GED (General Education Diploma). Many would say that a GED is nothing but a simple test. To a ChalleNGe Cadet it is what we work for. The GED is the stepping stone to our future that makes our goals accessible.

Before ChalleNGe I had no goals. I lived day-by-day working at a dead end job. Realizing I wasn’t getting anywhere fast I decided to find a way to get my diploma. Though there are so many other cadets at ChalleNGe with harder lives and tougher backgrounds we all share one common thing, the longing for a future. We are not at ChalleNGe to burn time. We are there for ourselves, to attain a goal: making people and ourselves happy for a change!

“At risk,” is a common phrase used when describing a a person before they become a ChalleNGe Cadet.

But what is “at risk?” I see “at risk,” as a term that describes teens as a whole who are not enrolled at a high school, may be involved in gangs or anything that isn’t going to benefit them in the future or let them prosper from.

I was a loser, I was a disappointment, I was a screwup, and I was “AT RISK.” But a simple five and a half month course at Fort Dix changed me. Not only did it open my eyes to show me that I could succeed but as one of my fellow cadets Timothy Keefe states, “As the program nears an end we have been given the tools for the future...our lives.”

One year ago I was never thinking about preparing for my high school graduation or getting ready for college in September. ChalleNGe took me from the wrong crowd, enforced school and instilled family values again. ChalleNGe changed me. I overcame the “challenge,” and now as I prepare for the future I take it into my own hands.

I will succeed and I will prove everybody who ever doubted me wrong. I am a person, not an “at risk” youth. I am a ChalleNGe cadet and now I am a high school graduate with a future, awaiting the next task or challenge that comes my way.

If this program sounds remotely like it can help somebody you know please help them. This was my second chance it could be theirs.

For more information call the New Jersey Youth ChalleNGe Academy at 1-800-997-5587 or go to their website at

(c) 2006 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs