Florida Youth ChalleNGe Family Day | Events

Title (Max 100 Characters)

Florida Youth ChalleNGe Family Day
Events, Families
Florida Youth ChalleNGe Family Day

Off in the distance one lone voice could be heard, “Three more months and we’ll be through,” followed immediately by the echo of more than a hundred, “Three more months and we’ll be through.” This was the moment the families of these cadets have been waiting for all morning.

As the formation marched closer and the first glimpse of first platoon of teenagers could be seen rounding the corner, the cadence mixed with the cheers from the families lining the street. The noise grew to a crescendo so loud the cadets were no longer able to hear the commands, which were now being shouted out by their leader.   

The Florida Youth ChalleNGe Academy’s Family Day on Feb. 19 was the first day families were invited to see how far their teenagers have come, and to reunite with them.  During the event, Director Danny Brabham addressed the crowd of more than 900 family members, “We love what we do. We thank you for allowing us the opportunity to help your young man or your young lady, get back on track, and that’s what we do.” He also asked them to thank the cadre and staff, who have helped these cadets get to where they are right now.  

After a brief demonstration of facing movements performed by the entire company of four platoons, the one command both cadets and family members were anxiously waiting to hear was called out by the student first sergeant: “FALL OUT!” Instantly the perfectly formed lines of cadets became a sea of people moving in every direction to find the family they haven’t seen in six weeks.

The moment the cadets reunited with their families tears flowed freely and it was clear the hugs were some of the tightest they have shared in a long time. For one stepfather and his stepson it was the first one they’ve ever had. As Rick Harmon choked back tears he explained that this was the first time his stepson Cody hugged him in the two years he’s been in his life. He also said he could not believe his eyes when he was able to pick out Cody standing in formation.

“To see him today, and to see the transformation that he has made, standing in formation and how professional he looked, it was absolutely a shock to see him that way and I loved it. I’m proud of you man,” Rick Harmon said, as he and Cody both wiped tears from their eyes.

The Academy is aimed at promoting adult responsibility, values and basic lifestyle changes. Each youth experiences a demanding, highly regimented, motivational climate covering the components of academic excellence, community service, job skills, leadership and physical fitness. A sister of one cadet said this was exactly what her brother needed, because this was his last option and like their last name – Hope - they still have hope. 

Celeste Hope is not only Cadet Abraham Hope’s sister; she has also been his guardian ever since his mother lost custody of him when he was just seven months old. There’s a 25-year difference in their age and when asked why she took on the job of guardian, her answer was simply: “I’m all he has.”

Abraham’s father died when he was two years old and as he got older his sister’s job of being both sister and parent only got more difficult. He was getting into trouble at school and pretty much everywhere else, she said.

“He came here because this was his last option,” Celeste explained. “There was nothing else left for him to do or nowhere else he could go.  He was kicked out of high school.  He was kicked out of alternative schools, so this was the best option for him.” 

Jan Thomas, a social studies and science instructor at the school sees the cadets five days a week and likes Family Day because, according to her, the event gives the parents a chance to see the growth and appreciate their kids again.

“It also gives the kids a chance to appreciate their parents, because once they’re away from them they realize how wonderful their parents are,” Thomas said. 

Florida’s Youth ChalleNGe Academy is run by the Florida Department of Military Affairs and the Florida National Guard. Designed on a military model, 16- to 18-year-old high school students, most of whom are dropouts, are given a second chance to earn a high school diploma or G.E.D. by completing a rigorous five-and-a-half month boarding school located on Camp Blanding.  Upon graduation from the in-residence phase, each student enters a 12-month post-residential phase and is assigned a mentor who provides personal guidance and support.  In order to successfully complete the program, all students are required to either pursue higher education or gain full-time employment.  This is the second class which is eligible to earn college credits.  College classes are being provided by St. Johns River State College and are transferable to other colleges around the state. 

This is the 20th class, with 153 Florida youths in attendance from across the state.  In the last ten years the academy has graduated more than 2,400 cadets from 57 counties with a more than 80-percent success rate. 

For additional information contact the academy at (904) 682-4000 or visit http://www.ngycp.org/FL

Events, Families

Middleburg Businesses