|Portland teen says ORNG Youth Challenge Program teaches respect, motivation and strength
Cadet finds new strengths at military school
A year ago Portland teenager Joseph Hardy couldn't have seen himself carrying a guideon at the Oregon Youth ChalleNGe Program.
He really didn't even see himself finishing school.
But four months into the six-month alternative school, a uniformed Cadet Hardy paces the concrete hallways with military bearing, proudly displaying the streamers that he helped win for his platoon.
Hardy, 16, is one of about 125 cadets currently enrolled in the youth challenge program, which uses a military model of discipline to reinforce formal education and other life skills.
"You have to learn a lot of things when you come here to live with kids from all over the state," Hardy said. "You have to learn that your actions affect a lot of people."
Hardy said the first two weeks of "pre-challenge" were the most difficult, when teens from different backgrounds came together under the same roof for an introduction to military culture.
"I didn't know anything about the military when I got here," he said. "I knew my dad was in the Navy and that's it."
But as his platoon bonded, learning to march, eat, exercise and sleep together, and the daily classes began, Hardy said he learned to like the new program.
"You learn a lot here… self-respect, respect for others, motivation," Hardy said. "It puts your life on track and makes you grow up. It's pretty fun actually,"
"Well, it's not always fun. There's a lot of work," he added.
But he must have done something right, because Hardy was one of a handful of cadets honored with the responsible citizen badge. The award is given to teens who demonstrate responsibility and good behavior.
A block of other badges line his breast pocket for things like drill team, physical fitness and academic excellence.
Hardy said his parents first suggested he enter the alternative school when his grades sagged at a Catholic Middle School in Portland.
"That was back in the days when I wasn't such a good student," he said.
After dropping out of his previous school, he came to Bend to give the youth challenge a try.
After four months, he said he'll not only graduate from high school when he's completed the program, but he'll finish by the end of his junior year, then get a head start on college.
"I plan to go on to get credits from a local community college before transferring to a four-year university in Atlanta," he said with a grin. "I've got family there, and I like the warm weather."
He's still undecided about a career.
"My parents are proud," he said.
While not all participants pass the six-month course, Hardy seems to be one of their success stories.
On Nov. 4, a group of prospective students showed up at the facility with their parents for a tour of the building and a sampling of the lifestyle.
Hardy stands at attention, directing traffic from one room to another.
"Right this way, ma'am," he said.
During a social hour, Hardy and several cadets entertain prospective students with stories and advice from the course.
"Your first week here, you'll think you want to leave," he tells a young man from Beaverton. "But just stick with it and you'll be alright."
"This program is doable for anyone who's willing to apply themselves," said OYCP Community Service Coordinator Ken Olson.
With 3,000 successful graduates, the Oregon Youth Challenge Program must have found a way to help teenagers apply themselves.
Ninety-five percent of their students who take the GED pass on the first attempt, said Missions Counselor Assistant David Medina.
And others, like Joseph Hardy, find new motivation they didn't know they had.
DSC_0022: Photo by Spc. Patrick Lair, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Joesph Hardy and another cadet explain the challenges of the six-month resident youth course to a prospective applicant.
Oregon National Guard Public Affairs
Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy