By: Duane Blankenship | Category: Special Interest | Issue: August 2007
Cadets are pictured during their final week prior to graduation.
Thunderbird Youth Academy’s mission is to intervene in the lives of at-risk youth. Launched in 1993, the academy has been supported by allocated funds from the state of Oklahoma since 1996. Vicky Smiddy, mentor coordinator, says, “Thunderbird Youth Academy targets 16- to 18-year-old male or female high school dropouts. It gives them the opportunity to gain control over their lives by increasing academic performance, improving self esteem and learning essential life skills to enable them to perform in the workplace and manage healthy family environments.” Thunderbird Youth Academy is currently seeking male and female volunteers to become mentors for the academy’s cadets.
The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is a residential, quasi-military program for at-risk youth. Cadets involved in the program are each matched by gender to a caring adult who acts as a consistent, positive role model throughout the program. Mentors work with their cadets to help them sustain their new positive lifestyle changes during and after the program. This relationship can be the most important contact the cadet may have while attending the academy and after graduation.
The Youth ChalleNGe program has been continuously developed and enhanced to keep Thunderbird Youth Academy at the top of Oklahoma’s youth-serving organizations. Utilizing a quasi-military approach, the program teaches self-discipline and improves the self-esteem and physical fitness of cadets. As one of 33 Youth ChalleNGe programs across the United States, Thunderbird Youth Academy’s facility is located in Pryor and is accredited by the state of Oklahoma.
While the Youth ChalleNGe program itself lasts five-and-a-half months, it is followed by a 12-month, post residential mentoring phase. Mentor follow-up throughout this phase has proven to be the key ingredient to the long term success of each Youth ChalleNGe graduate. Upon completion of a 22-week residential phase at the academy, each cadet returns home. Mentors can help ease graduates’ transition back into community.
Cadets take a break during floor waxing duty at one of Thunderbird Youth Academy’s billet areas.
Mentoring is a requirement of cadets in the Youth ChalleNGe program. While mentors may be aunts, uncles, family friends or total strangers, each is required to commit at least eight hours total to their assigned cadets during the program. Mentor training will be provided once cadets complete their first two weeks of pre-challeNGe training. Mentors must be at least 21 years of age and be able to pass a background check.
Many of the young men and women at Thunderbird Youth Academy have not had significant relationships with adults in their lives. Many have never received positive encouragement. “A mentor needs to have a strong desire to help youth,” explains Smiddy. “We want our cadets and their mentors to form strong bonds,” she adds. Many cadets and mentors continue to stay in touch long after graduation.
Become a positive influence in the life of a young adult through the Youth ChalleNGe Mentor Program. Contact Vicki Smiddy today at Thunderbird Youth Academy by calling (918) 824-4853 or via e-mail at eat0@eau0eav0eaw0. Pre-application forms may be downloaded online at www.ngycp.org/state/ok.
Toni Zetina, public relations assistant, and Vicki Smiddy, mentor coordinator, stand in the visitor lobby of Thunderbird Youth Academy in Pryor.
Blankenship graduated from the University of Oklahoma and has enjoyed a lifetime career in advertising. He started his own advertising business in 1993 and enjoys creating graphic art and writing. Hobbies include hunting, fishing and pencil drawings. Duane and his wife, Janice, have been married over 50 years and are active in their church and community. He has been a contributing writer for Value News/Values Magazine since 2005.