BEND, Ore. – Three weeks after their induction into the Oregon National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe Program (OYCP), 160 cadets, having just finished their ‘red stage’ training, sit anxiously in several precise rows inside one of many classrooms at the OYCP campus on Aug. 5.
They, along with many of their instructors, and other dignitaries, to include Oregon Secretary of State Beverly Clarno, are about to be part of a special ceremony; honoring one of their own and her journey back home to Oregon.
As she stood in front of her peers and family to take the oath of office, Jasmyn Troncoso became a newest deputy district attorney for Deschutes County, completing the latest milestone in her unique 13-year excursion. Following her Youth ChalleNGe graduation in 2006, she later attended Mt. Hood Community College, then worked in the fashion industry, only later to enroll at Loyola Marymount University at Los Angeles, completing both undergraduate and finally her law degree in May of 2017.
While directly addressing the cadets during the ceremony, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel emphasized the impact of the Youth ChalleNGe program as he applauded Troncoso. Hummel specially requested that the ceremony be conducted with the cadets at OYCP since the program played such a pivotal role in her success story.
“I know that some of you may have been getting bad grades in school, and some of you might have even gotten into some trouble with the law ...and you might have been close to giving up, but you didn’t give up,” he said.
In emphasizing his point about ‘never giving up,’ Hummel described Troncoso’s story and how it paralleled many of their lives. “In Oregon, we don’t give up on people,” he stressed to the cadets. “You need to know that you have the entire state pulling for you and we’re here to help you because we want to see you become as successful as Jasmyn.”
The mission of the Oregon National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe program is to “provide opportunities for personal growth, self-improvement and academic achievement,” for Oregon High School dropouts and students no longer attending school. The highly structured training and educational program foster success through an intense non-traditional environment.
Following her oath of office, Troncoso spoke openly to the cadets and staff, describing the lasting influence the program has made in her life.
“The story I often tell when I’ve come back here (to OYCP) is that I tried to leave the program just three hours after I started,” Troncoso said, recalling her early hectic and intense beginning to the program.
In detailing many of the attributes of the program, Troncoso praised the structure, discipline, and support that she discovered she personally needed as she quickly thrived within the environment of the Youth ChalleNGe organization.
“What I discovered about myself is that I found stability in the structure here even though it was a tough program, and like many of you, I was scared yet excited about the challenge,” she said, recounting the first stage of training to the cadets. “You all have made the best decisions of your life by being here, without a doubt.”
For Troncoso and many other graduates of the program are quick to credit the staff and instructors as key advocates to their success.
“I was kinda tricked into staying that first day by Larry Demarr,” she said, recalling a significant moment as a cadet. “He told me to give it a day and we could talk about my decision to stay in the program the next day.”
What Troncoso didn’t know was that Demarr was scheduled to have the weekend off. When he returned a few days later, he was pleased to see she had worked through the early issues.
“There is a lot of complaining from some kids in the ‘red stage,’ as they feel like their lives are over because they have no freedom,” he said. “With some kids, you have to ‘Ice Them,’ by leaving them alone; this allows them to come into their own.”
Damarr said that the process for many cadets early on is breaking down some those initial barriers. “So with Jasmyn, ‘a little tough love’ was all she needed and I knew she would make it after that point.”
Like many of the instructors at OYCP, Demarr has found his calling with the Youth ChalleNGe program. A Marine Corps and National Guard veteran, he was working as a correctional officer before starting at OYCP 15 years ago. This distinct fusion of experience allows him a perceptive into many of the uncertainties facing the cadets in his care.
“I was seeing these inmates at an older age, come back after doing the same things again and again,” as Demarr described the recidivism cycle so common within the criminal justice system. “I knew then, years before I came here (at Youth ChalleNGe), that I wanted to get to them before they got to that stage.”
When Troncoso entered OYCP, she had been attending high school in Salem and Gresham, Oregon. She would be the first to admit that she had a rebellious streak and was underperforming in school, carrying just a 1.22 (GPA) grade point average.
“With my step-father’s job in Austria, my sister and I had been going to school in Vienna. The schools there were phenomenal and coming back to Oregon at this time in my life was such a sudden contrast,” said Troncoso.
It’s one of the reasons she credits the Youth Challenge program with turning her life around. “This place (OYCP) pushes the cadets to their limits. It didn’t take me long to understand that I need the discipline and this type of structure in my life.”
“With all her accomplishments, Jasmyn still finds time now to be a mentor and advocate for the program,” said Demarr, explaining a recent situation with a current cadet. “One of our kids thought all I was doing was giving him the ‘Used Car Salesman’ approach to the program. So I had Jasmyn talk with him on the phone, and she was able to give him the ‘raw deal’ and talk to him in a way that he could understand about how important this program was for her and can be for him too.”
As the program and facility are growing, OYCP will expand to 240 students by July of 2020. The need for this type of program is more relevant now than ever before.
“We’re able to transform lives and give these kids the tools they need for a lifetime,” said Demarr. “It’s not that they need to become a lawyer but they need to see themselves in her.”
The perseverance to finish the program was an important breakthrough for Troncoso, said Jenny Morrow, Jasmyn’s mother. “The OYCP was the first thing she had ever started and finished in her life. She really dug her heels in and finished the program even though early on, she was ready to quit.”
During her time at OYCP, her natural tenacity was refocused and defined. She would eventually become a team and squad leader during her six months in the program.
“Jasmyn is the most argumentative person you’ve ever met,” said Morrow, laughing at their irreplaceable mother-daughter relationship. “But it’s what makes her such a good prosecutor. Yet she is very compassionate, as she wants to help those that were in her position in the past.”
Morrow said she is happy to have her back home in Oregon but was quick to explain how important it was for Jasmyn to attend college in Los Angeles.
“She really found herself in California,” said Morrow. “But she also wanted to come back to Oregon because she felt a need to give something back to this community.”
Having passed the Bar exam in California just 18 months before, Troncoso turned around and passed the Oregon exam prior to being hired for the job in the Deschutes County district attorney’s office.
“For someone who has been practicing law for just a few years, Jasmyn is mature beyond her years,” said Hummel. “When I interviewed her for the prosecutor job what impressed me from the beginning was her competency and confidence.”
With a county population of nearly 200,000 and rapidly growing, Hummel said Troncoso will be part of a team of five lawyers working on violent crimes in Deschutes County. “Her case load will be around 85 cases but she already had been working on many of these types of situations as a prosecutor in Los Angles.”
As the day’s event concluded at the Oregon Youth ChalleNGe Program campus, Secretary of State Clarno took a moment to address the cadets, stressing the importance of personal determination.
“Like some of you might have experienced, my childhood was really terrible, but I decided that I was going to be a survivor no matter what,” she described to the cadets. “The reason I’m secretary of State today is because I made important choices, just like Jasmyn has, and like so many of you made by being in this program.”
For Troncoso, her experience with the OYCP has brought her full circle in life too. The desire to come back home to peruse her career has also allowed her to still be connected to the program as a mentor and advocate for others in the region.
“I wanted to give something back to Oregon,” she said. “Because it (the State of Oregon) has done so much for me and I am grateful to have this opportunity now to make a difference for others.”