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NEWS | Aug. 21, 2018

Commonwealth ChalleNGe welcomes back alumni for 25th anniversary reunion

By A.J. Coyne JFHQ Public Affairs

The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy welcomed back alumni at a 25th anniversary alumni reunion July 28, 2018, at Camp Pendleton State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach. The event, which was conducted in coordination with family day for the current class, Class 49, provided alumni with the opportunity to meet with current staff and leadership, learn about the current activities at ChalleNGe, and discuss ways they can stay involved with the program.

“I thought the event went well,” said Mark Chicoine, director of Commonwealth ChalleNGe. “Based on feedback, the alumni were excited about returning.  They had kind remarks about the program and expressed an interest in having reunions more often.”

More than 40 alumni and family members attended the reunion, with the oldest being a graduate of Class 3. The current class is Class 49, which will graduate Aug. 25. Their graduation will put the total number of graduates of the program at more than 5,000 since it began in 1993.

“The purpose of brining alumni back to ChalleNGe was to continue to develop an alumni support network throughout the state,” Chicoine explained.

He said they learned ChalleNGe alumni are very interested in giving back to the program and asked how they can help.

“The comments were ‘How can I help?  What are the requirements to become a mentor?  The program made me a better person and helped me to become more focused on life,’” he said.

Chicoine said he hopes to make alumni day an annual event, in conjunction with each July’s family day.

More than 125 parents and family members attended family day for the 91 cadets in Class 49. The event included a pass and review of cadets, a drill & ceremony demonstration, food and drinks, a silent auction, and tours of the facilities.

“We received many thanks from parents, guardians and family members about the change their sons, daughters, nephews and nieces have made since attending our program,” Chicoine said.

The ChalleNGe Parent Support Association supported family day and alumni day by catering the reunion and providing food for family day. All proceeds from the sale of food and t-shirts support scholarships and other activities for the cadets, according to Chicoine.

Commonwealth ChalleNGe, the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, is a 17-and-a-half-month program that is structured in a military-style environment designed to promote academics, attention to detail, time management, and leadership, while promoting self-esteem, confidence and pride. It includes a five and a half month residential program which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities.

Each Commonwealth ChalleNGe class accepts up to 180 youth per session and more than 4,000 cadets have completed the program since Commonwealth ChalleNGe started.

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