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Youth Challenge Academy now recruiting in northern Michigan

ALPENA–The teenage years can be a challenge.

While it’s not unusual for teens and their families to encounter rough patches during high school, some young people struggle more than others, battling addictions, anger, depression, or an inability to fit into the traditional school environment.

The Michigan Youth Challenge Academy, funded by the Michigan National Guard, provides teenagers from around the state an alternative to that struggle.

“It’s incredible just to see a change in the young people, that they actually grow up and take responsibility for their actions,” said Frank Vasquez, a recruiter for the academy and also one of its graduates.

“I completely believe it saved my life,” Vasquez said.

A few friends of his youth have died from opioid addictions, but “they went their way and I went my way.”

The academy is an intensive, 22-week residential program for at-risk youth and non-traditional learners aged 16 to 18. Run in a quasi-military environment, the free program helps young people who are not on track to graduate from high school to turn their lives around, Vasquez said, preparing them to be productive and respected members of society.

About 200 Michigan youth typically apply for each session. Of those, about 160 are accepted, and about 130 graduate, having dedicated nearly half a year to the hard work of changing their lives.

The first two weeks of the program, Vasquez said, are an acclimation period, in which candidates “get used to our way of life, the yes, sir, no, sir, yes, ma’am, no, ma’am.”

During the remainder of the residential program, conducted in Battle Creek, cadets can return to or even complete their high school requirements while learning life skills and developing personal management habits.

“I graduated college when I didn’t think I could graduate high school,” Vasquez said.

An informational orientation will be held in Gaylord on Oct. 12, and the next 22-week cycle will begin in mid-January.

“It’s 22 weeks of an opportunity,” Vasquez said.

If you go

∫ WHAT: Orientation for the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy

∫ WHEN: 10 a.m. Oct. 12

∫ WHERE: Hampton Inn, 230 Dickerson Road, Gaylord

∫ INFO: Information about the program and what it can offer to area youth who are struggling to complete high school. An entry interview is included in the orientation, and a parent is required to attend. Registration information is available at miycp.org or by calling 269-968-1294.