By Ida Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Local government and judicial officials, education representatives and concerned citizens were among those present at the first of a planned series of community enlightenment forums sponsored by State Rep. Charles L. Young Jr. (D-District 82).
Held Wednesday at Kahlmus Auditorium on the Mississippi State University, Meridian campus, the forums are designed to provide information on education, education reform, military affairs as well as options for problems with the community's youth.
One of the two presentations was especially timely, regarding the escalating violence among local youth. Col. Steven McCoy, director of the Mississippi ChalleNGe Academy at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, talked about the residential military-structured GED and mentoring program. Opened to youth ages 16-18, the program works with at-risk youth who are unsuccessful in the traditional school environment.
"Often when people learn that I'm with the ChalleNGe Academy they'll say, 'Oh, you work with those bad kids,'" McCoy said. "I tell them no ... ChalleNGe is for every child who wants a better opportunity for themselves and who is willing to be led to allow themselves to put their selfish desires aside to better their situation."
A program of the Mississippi National Guard, The ChalleNGe Academy is not a boot camp. However, it can be very challenging to the youth who participate in the program.
"They must have a desire to make changes in their lives physically, academically and emotionally," McCoy said.
Young said he was especially impressed with the academy's success rate.
"For them to be able to take troubled youth and have such a high percentage of those youth to graduate and such a low percentage going into the corrections system astounded me," Young said. "Of the 9,000 Mississippi youth they've served, only 10 have ended up as wards of the Department of Corrections. We need to know what they are doing."
Retired General Robert Thomas, comptroller for the state's military and former deputy to Adjutant General of Mississippi Major Gen. Augustus L. Collins, spoke on the state of the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard.