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Appalachian Youth ChalleNGe Academy will open in July 2012;

The Appalachian Youth ChalleNGe Academy will open in July 2012 at the former Hall Elementary School. Croley Forester was recently appointed director of the new program. 

“I was tickled to death to get the job. I had pretty much promised myself that I would stay retired unless I found something I really wanted to do. This is it,” said Forester.

Forester has military background with the U.S. Air Force and recently returned to the county after a long career with U.S. Customs.

“Once we get this going, we will have the ability to help between 200 and 300 at-risk kids each year, and I am also going to be able to employ 55 people in Harlan County with fresh jobs,” said Forester.

He stated that the time up until the first class arrives next summer will be spent hiring and training new staff and completing the renovation of the building. Once opened, each class will go through a 22-week program at the academy. 

Earlier this week, a briefing on the project was held at the Harlan campus of Southeast Kentucky Technical and Community College with several of the key people behind the project. 

Col. John Wayne Smith is the director of the Bluegrass Youth ChalleNGe Academy at Fort Knox, a facility that recruits children from all over Kentucky. Smith discussed the reasoning behind the new facility in Harlan.

“I was looking at the numbers in our target population. I found that Appalachia has a higher rate of these kids, but we also found that because of positive family connections in the area youth are hesitant to leave and come to Fort Knox. We have had a few come to us, but nothing like the numbers we should be getting,” said Smith. 

“Here in Harlan we found a county with a school system that was willing to help make a program. We believe that with a academy here, we will be able to get kids to come who wouldn’t come to Fort Knox,” said Smith.

The primary recruiting area is 23 counties in eastern Kentucky for the new facility. If there are any remaining openings, they will be available for kids from the Appalachian region of neighboring states. Smith also addressed some common misconceptions about the program.

“Many, when they hear of Youth ChalleNGe think of boot camp. It is nothing like that. Youth ChalleNGe is a voluntary program for at-risk youth between 16 and 18 years old. The program has a military flavor, but what it’s really about is teaching them leadership, life skills and that they can better themselves,” said Smith.

“At the academy, they will be going to school and do daily details. Physical fitness is part of the program and the kids will be doing daily runs. Another part of the program is community service. They will learn about the benefits of giving back to the community, rather than to take from it,” said Smith.

Col. Joe Warren, a recruiter with the Bluegrass Challenge Academy, talked about the young people that in the future will come to the academy at former Hall Elementary School.

“The program is targeted for either high school dropouts or potential high school dropouts. We offer two routes of education, either GED or credit recovery for those that have fallen behind, but wants to catch up and get a high school diploma,” said Warren.

He also mentioned that the program continues to follow each cadet for one year after the person leaves the Academy.

“Each cadet is required to have a mentor. The mentor must be someone outside of their immediate family, but it needs to be a person that the cadet is comfortable talking to and someone that can provide encouragement for him or her to stay on the right track. The mentor is supposed to be in weekly contact with the kid for a whole year,” said Warren.

Harlan Daily Enterprise

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