VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Congressman Scott Taylor stopped by the Virginia National Guard’s Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy Feb. 12, 2018, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Taylor first met with the program’s director, retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, Brig. Gen. Paul F. Griffin, Director of the Joint Staff for the Virginia National Guard, and Lt. Col. Timothy Pillion, commander of SMR. Following the meeting, Taylor talked to the cadets about his personal experience and the impact mentors had on his life. Later, Taylor helped ChalleNGe cadre lead a physical training session.
“It’s an honor for me to be here with you today,” Taylor told the cadets. “Part of the reason I’m so thankful for being here is that I know what it’s like to be an at-risk kid.”
ChalleNGe is 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. The program is open to 16-18 year olds and Chicoine explained to Taylor that the cadets either work toward getting their GED or return to high school once they’ve completed the five-month residence phase of the program.
“My philosophy is, if you graduate from ChalleNGe, you’re a part of ChalleNGe for life,” Chicoine told Taylor, explaining that the cadets are paired with mentors once they complete the residence phase.
“I’m a big believer in mentorship,” Taylor said. “You wouldn’t be talking to me if it wasn’t for a mentor.”
Taylor told the cadets that, as a pre-teen, he was arrested and put on probation. His mother signed him up for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which pairs kids and teens with volunteer mentors in their own communities.
“If it wasn’t for my big brother, then I wouldn’t be here today because he changed the whole trajectory of my life,” Taylor said, explaining that his “claim to fame” is being the first “little brother” to be elected to Congress. He told the kids he understands the difficulties they have faced and told them that their involvement in ChalleNGe was important and meaningful.
During his time with Commonwealth ChalleNGe, Taylor also took time to answer questions posed by the cadets and cadre, who asked about his time as a U.S. Navy SEAL, his experience getting elected to U.S. Congress and about any advice he might have for the teens.
“This ChalleNGe course and the people who you meet here and the people that you’re going through with and the mentors that might come back and help you, the fact that you have that with you, really arms you for things, it really arms you for life,” Taylor said. “You guys have been given a wonderful opportunity here. Take advantage of it.”
At the close of the assembly, Taylor helped present five cadets with awards and then headed out with the cadets for a physical training session. Taylor helped lead the cadets during PT, and invited some of the cadets to come up front and help him lead the group in various exercises.
“Seek out mentors, be a mentor and strive to be your best in all that you do and you will be successful,” Taylor told the cadets during his parting remarks.
Commonwealth ChalleNGe began in July of 1994 and since then 48 classes totaling more than 4,000 cadets have completed the program.