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Youth Challenge Scholarship
Champion Award
Recently, Assistant Director, George Dunford, and his wife Cindy, had the great honor of accompanying Shawna Hill of Business Services to Redmond to participate in the Oregon Youth Challenge Program graduation ceremony.  Prior to this trip, Dunford said, “I didn’t know much about the program.  We left the ceremony with a sense of admiration for both the graduates and their teachers.”
The Oregon National Guard program is a public alternative high school.  Students live on site, near Bend, for 5½ months while attending a military model school.  Both the training and academic requirements are rigorous.  The students are generally high school youth considered at risk of dropping out or otherwise failing in traditional high school settings.
Shawna’s son, Ryan Hill graduated from the Youth Challenge program in 2003.  Ryan was killed in action while serving in the US Army with distinction in Iraq earlier this year.  It seems that in all sad things, there are kernels of solace.  This year’s graduation was such a kernel for Shawna.  A graduate from this year’s class was the first to receive the PFC Ryan J. Hill Champion Award– this award is best described by Shawna herself:
This scholarship was originally going to be presented by Ryan himself.  When he was first deployed to Iraq, there was media attention about a mother whose son was killed in Iraq.  She became an ardent antiwar advocate and protester. When I thought about this mother’s response and the remembrance that people may have of her son as a result, I made a decision that I would want to do something positive and to look for good in the event of something happen to Ryan.  The thought occurred to me – why wait until something bad happens – let’s do something good now. Ryan and I had a conversation about it and he funded, from his earnings, a scholarship for a cadet from the Oregon Youth Challenge Program.  He was excited about it.  I was meeting with program officials to finalize the award criteria when Ryan was killed by an IED. 
Ryan, like many other young adults, was on the fence and could have gone either direction. He didn’t fit into the public school system very well.  It was a social event for him. He struggled with doing homework, thus, leading to low academic achievement.  The model that the Youth Challenge Program uses worked well for Ryan.  This scholarship is important to us because students who struggle academically are less likely to get assistance for education via more traditional scholarships.  Yet, as in Ryan’s case, the traditional methods miss great potential as demonstrated by Ryan’s life. 
In the presentation, I spoke of the “forks in the road” that each of the cadets came to, including Ryan.  One is the easy road that most choose. The cadets, however, chose the road less traveled that requires determination, persistence, self discipline and commitment. 
I also talked about the four areas that the scholarship is based on.  These are the areas that describe Ryan –
  • 100% committed to having fun;
  • 100% committed to making a difference;
  • 100% committed to his purpose; and
  • 100% committed to his team. 
The award is called the “PFC Ryan J. Hill Champion Award” based on a quote from his “my space” website:  A true champion is one who wants to make a difference, never gives up, works hard and never stops following their dreams. 
This award keeps the memory of Ryan alive – He was committed to the Youth Challenge Program.  His mentor was influential in helping to refine the amazing American Hero that he became.  When Ryan was killed, I made a decision that good must come out of this tragedy.  Ryan wanted to motivate and inspire others to become the absolute best that they can be and to passionately pursue their purpose.  It is my desire that this award will make a small difference in helping the recipient accomplish their mission.” 

Youth Challenge Program
For more information about the Oregon Youth Challenge Program, visit their website at http://www.oycp.com/.