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NEWS | March 12, 2024

Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates Class 60

By A.J. Coyne | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

The Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 68 cadets during a ceremony March 2, 2024, at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Retired Army Col. Everton E. Nevers, the Department of Military Affairs Chief Operations Officer, joined Jennifer D. Lanz, director of CCYA, and Yolanda Parker, a CCYA graduate and the guest speaker for the event, on stage to congratulate the graduates of Class 60.

“This is truly a beautiful moment, certainly a closed circle moment for me,” said Parker, a graduate of the inaugural class of Commonwealth ChalleNGe. “The name ChalleNGe is an understatement. We all have our individual challenges and completing this program was no easy feat. Congratulations!”

Parker recalled her time at CCYA and how it shaped her as a person. She went through many ups and downs. Finally, one day, “I decided to do whatever I had to do to make the best of my time here as a cadet,” she said.

“Class 1 began with so many kids and by the end of it there was literally just a handful left,” Parker recalled. “Words can’t describe how proud I was on our graduation day. It was the first time my mom got to see one of her kids walk across the stage and receive a certificate of completion of any kind. The smile she wore for me that day was unforgettable.”

“Every single cadet came to ChalleNGe to win,” Lanz said. “They did not come here to try to just not lose. Showing up and making every effort to win is even more important than winning.”

Lanz began as the director Feb. 1, 2024, replacing E. Marc Chicoine, who retired Dec. 31, 2023. Chicoine led Commonwealth ChalleNGe since July 2013.
As she got acclimated to her new position and spent time with the cadets of Class 60, Lanz said she was not only impressed with them but also with the staff.
“The gift that these cadets bring to us is just as stunning,” she said. “They are forever going to be part of our identity. Thank you to our supporters and thank you to the families for sharing your teens with us.”

The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided the music for the ceremony.

Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program and is based at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach. ChalleNGe 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.

More than 5,000 Virginia teens have graduated from CCYA since it started in 1994. 

“We look forward to celebrating 30 years of changing lives,” Lanz said. “As we confirm our cadets for graduation today, on successfully passing the eight core components of ChalleNGe, I would also like to confirm our staff, especially teachers, cadre, counselors, and career advisors produce responsible and productive citizens. Our staff does impressive work on a daily basis.”

The program is open to 16-18 year olds, and the cadets work toward earning their GED, or multiple high school credits through the Credit Recovery program. Cadets either return to high school, enlist in the armed forces, college or trade school, once they’ve completed the five-and-a-half-month residential phase of the program, then enter a one-year mentoring phase.

The CCYA is divided into three phases- acclimation, residential and post-residential.

The first phase is the acclimation period. This period is the first two weeks of the residential phase that consists of physical, leadership, and mental challenges designed to test the candidates’ potential for success in the second phase of the program.

The second phase is a 20-week residential period that consists of academics (credit recovery or GED test preparation), post-residential goal development, physical fitness, counseling (both individual and group), life skills, and team building. This phase supports the development of job skills and self-concept through daily activities and service community.

The third phase is a one-year post-residential phase. This one-year mentorship period is completed in the cadet’s community with the guidance and assistance of a screened, trained, and matched mentor.

The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy operates two residential classes per year. The classes begin in January and July. The residential phase consists of academics and structured training that includes daily rigorous physical fitness exercises.

Academic training and instruction is the responsibility of the faculty and is supplemented with various off site field trips.  The destinations of these trips vary, depending on the curriculum being taught at a given time. Past field trips have included museums, the Virginia Aquarium, the state capital, Washington D.C., and live theater performances.

The Teach Advise Counsel Officers, also known as cadre, are responsible for the cadets’ execution of the daily routine, physical fitness, personal hygiene, health and welfare, teaching ethical behavior and military science, and working together as a team.

Physical training, drill and ceremonies (marching), and barracks inspections are also integral parts of this training in teaching cooperation, tolerance of others, and teamwork.

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