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Washington Youth Academy Celebrates 10 years

By Master Sgt. Timothy Chacon | Washington National Guard | Nov. 28, 2018

BREMERTON, Wash. - The Washington Youth Academy celebrated its 10-year anniversary Nov. 18 with a ceremony in Bremerton, Washington. Former and current academy cadets came together to reflect on the successes of the academy and look forward to the ones that lie ahead.

The ceremony officiated by Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general, Washington National Guard, had more than 300 attendees that included Brig. Gen. Jeremy Horn, assistant adjutant general, the current class of cadets, alumni from all the previous classes, academy facility, as well as many family members, and friends.

"I am so proud of every person sitting up there in those stands. You have overcome some of life's greatest challenges, challenges that many of us can't even imagine. Yet, you persevered and faced adversity head on and did things people told you were impossible, fought hard and came out ahead," Daugherty said."And now you are contributing to your community. You have found your own success and to me that is true inspiration. You are the living proof that this program works."

The ceremony not only marked the 10-year anniversary, but also recognized some other significant statistical accomplishments of the program.

"This was such a good milestone this year. 10 years, 20 classes and this current graduating class will break the 2,500 graduating cadet mark," said Horn."We really wanted to celebrate that and bring all these kids together so they know that we are still here to support them and for the current class to see what they can do with what they have learned here."

A recent visit and inspection from the National Guard Bureau rated the academy as the best Youth Challenge Program in the nation.

"Over the past few years the academy has achieved one of the highest graduation and retention rates across the country. The academy has developed a committed staff, some of who have been here since the very beginning of the program," said Daugherty."I know it took a lot to get the youth academy off the ground. The return has literally been immeasurable."

The WYA provides a learning environment for at-risk youth to improve their education levels and become productive citizens of the state of Washington. The program includes a 22-week residential phase and a 52-week post residential phase where they receive mentoring and placement follow-up.

The process of going through the academy can be an abrupt change for the youth who go through it. Although the change can be difficult for some, it is certainly a growing experience for all.

"Each cycle I see the difference in their eyes from the first day when they are like a bunch of scared rabbits, to when they finish their accumulation phase you can see that they are starting to get it," said Horn."You start seeing the confidence and a couple months down the road when they do their team-building exercise. They are owning it and embracing the fact that they are a lot more than what they came in as. By graduation they are ready to go and tackle life and now they have the skills, confidence and the support to go on and do that. For me each class is just a revalidation of the incredible work the youth academy is doing."

Daugherty concluded his remarks by commending the cadets for what they have accomplished so far and reminding them that what lies ahead of them will require the same hard work and grit they have shown during their time at the academy.

"We have accomplished a lot, but that doesn't mean that life is going to be smooth sailing from here on out. Life is tough. You'll have curveballs thrown your way, you'll have valleys to cross and mountains to climb, and trust me, you will face adversity again. It's just the way life is. Continue to use what you have learned at the academy to carry you through when life gets a little though. Because it gets a little tough for all of us."

Larry Pierce, WYA director, has been with the academy since its opening and reminded all in attendance that the academy's help doesn't end just because their time in the program does.

"The academy team is always here to help and support you, regardless of when you graduated. We are here for you because you are always going to be part of our family."

For more information on the Washington Youth Academy visit www.mil.wa.gov/youth-academy.