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NEWS | June 25, 2024

Las Vegas Student Corrects Course at Youth ChalleNGe Academy

By Capt. Emerson Marcus, Nevada Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

CARLIN, Nev. - The recipient of this semester’s Battle Born Youth ChalleNGe Academy’s Director’s Award for Excellence, Ayla Lain, came very close to never seeing her academic potential blossom. Abandoned by her parents at birth, the former student at Del Sol Academy in Las Vegas attempted to take her own life during her junior year.

Stemming from multiple medical issues, the 17-year-old Las Vegas native struggled with depression and eventually entered a treatment facility after her suicide attempt.

“I was going down a very bad path,” said Lain, who graduated from the National Guard-sponsored program June 14. “I didn’t have any tools (to overcome these challenges). I was very depressed, even suicidal.”

Andre Ponder, the BBYCA director, said Lain distinguished herself among this spring’s class of 45 students to receive his Director’s Award for Excellence.

“Cadet Lain displayed the most personal growth this semester despite all of the barriers she had to overcome during her journey to self-improvement,” Ponder said.

BBYCA, located in Carlin, Nev., at the previous Nevada Army Guard Elko County Readiness Center, includes a five-month, in-residence phase of instruction followed by a year-long mentoring relationship with trained mentors from the cadet’s local community. BBYCA aims to award a high school diploma or help cadets graduate on time with their hometown high school class. The residential portion of BBYCA includes physical training, community service and academics.

For Lain, the program proved transformational.

After attempting to take her own life, Lain spent five months in a mental health treatment facility before deciding to enroll in BBYCA. Her grandmother and guardian, Jo DePasquale, first heard of the Nevada Guard’s BBYCA during a conversation with a friend.

“It was a miracle,” DePasquale said. “We had, for the most part, given up on each other. The first couple of weeks were a horror story and then suddenly it clicked and the academy made her feel there was purpose to her existence.”

Lain conceded that getting accustomed to the quasi-military aspects of BBYCA — early wake-up calls and high-decibel commands from the academy’s cadre during the initial two-week acclimation phase — posed a challenge.

“It was hard at first,” Lain said. “I was not used to the military structure. During the acclimation phase, I yelled back when they yelled at me. Then, one day, I was shocked; I just started to embrace it.”

Later, a counselor at the program asked Lain to work with two struggling cadets. According to her grandmother, Lain began to thrive.

“She really became a leader during the program,” said Jackson Miller, a BBYCA school counselor. “That was what impressed me about her, especially considering where she came from immediately before us.”

Eventually, Lain was named her company’s first sergeant and oversaw the entire class of cadets.

She also doubled her high school credits during her stay at BBYCA and is on pace to graduate from Delta Online Academy next year.

“She really has had a lot of things to overcome throughout her life,” DePasquale said. “After she wound up in the hospital, I said, ‘God help me.’ And Battle Born Youth ChalleNGe Academy came along. I think it is a miraculous program for any child who wants to embrace it, and Ayla embraced it.”

Forty youth academies operate in 31 states across the nation under the auspices of the National Guard.



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