The families of the 98 cadets with the Arkansas National Guard Youth Challenge Program had a chance on Saturday, Feb. 16, to see their youths and the skills they were learning during a program held at Camp Robinson on Feb. 16.

Barry Eason, a public affairs specialist for the Arkansas National Guard, said this year marks the program’s 40th class.

Eason said the event gave families and the public an opportunity to see cadets for the first time since the young men and women began the behavioral modification program five weeks earlier.

The cadets performed a marching demonstration and parents got a chance to see the physical, behavioral and academic progress their teenagers had made up to that point.

"Youth Challenge is a structured program for youth ages 16 to 18 who have dropped out of high school," Eason said. "It is open to males and females, and is free for all applicants."

Upon graduation from the 22-week residential program, cadets are paired with a positive role model for mentorship after they return to their communities. The graduation date for the 40th class is scheduled for June 14.

The Arkansas National Guard Youth Challenge Program, is a preventive rather than remedial at-risk youth program. The program targets participants who are unemployed, drug-free and no felony convictions and 16 to 18 years of age. Cadets must not be older than 18 upon entry, however, they may turn 19 while in the program.

Core components of the program are: Responsible citizenship, academic excellence (GED/High School Diploma attainment)life-coping skills, service to community, health and hygiene job skills training leadership/followership, and physical training.

The residential phase includes a two-week acclamation period, followed by a year-long mentoring relationship with a specially trained member from each youth’s community.