Area teens graduate Youth Challenge Program _lowres

Photo provided by Megan Ready -- Louisiana State Rep. Mickey Guillory, District 41, delivers the commencement address to 221 Youth Challenge Program cadets in Pineville on Dec. 12. A few of the graduates are from the Baker, Zachary and Jackson areas.

The Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program graduated 221 cadets during a ceremony at the Alexandria Riverfront Center in Pineville on Dec. 12, with state Rep. Mickey J. Guillory, District 41, delivering the commencement address.

The commencement ceremony was historic for the Louisiana National Guard, which celebrated its 20,000th graduate of the program.

Twelve cadets, including Nelwyn Jackson, of Jackson, were awarded the rank of 5 star — the highest a cadet can achieve — for excelling in all aspects of the program.

Besides Jackson, graduating cadets from the area include Antonio Allen, of Baker, and Warren Arndt and Ty’Rell Guy, both of Zachary.

The Youth Challenge Program was established in 1993, following congressional approval for a pilot program to address and improve the high school dropout crisis, according to a news release.

Camp Beauregard YCP, established as one of 10 pilot programs nationwide, was successful, and the Louisiana National Guard was recognized for its ability to train, lead and mentor youth. In 1999, the Gillis W. Long Center became the second YCP program, and Camp Minden was established as the state’s third in 2001.

The program instills self-discipline, life skills and values in 16- to 18-year-olds and assists students with improving their grades and working toward earning their GED. Annually, about 1,400 teens graduate from the program.