ChalleNGe Program Helping Troubled Youth

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP) was founded by the National Guard in 1993 to improve the lives of young men and women who may be experiencing difficulties in school or social environments.
In the Sandhills, the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy provides a tuition-free, cost-free program that reaches out to help troubled youth and provides them with a safe, upright environment. Both North Carolina campuses in New London and Salemburg encourage participants to better themselves through responsibility and positive actions.

“We’re sincere about helping the youth. Many teenagers in our area are struggling, and we want to reach out,” said North Carolina NGYCP recruiter Rita Ladner. “So many kids are lost in the system, and we’re here to reach out and let them know that they have some place to turn to.”

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program currently operates forty programs in twenty-eight states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, including the two campuses that are here in the Sandhills.

“The kids that attend Tarheel Challenge Academy are here voluntarily,” noted recruiter Ladner. “When a kid wants to do something, they are more likely to get something out of it. That’s why we have a ninety-two to ninety-four percent success rate.”

There are no special credits or prerequisite classes for youths who wish to attend. The potential cadets must voluntarily attend, be sixteen to eighteen years of age at time of entry, and be a legal resident of the state in which they are attending. In addition, they must currently be an at-risk student, felony free, unemployed or underemployed, and must be physically and mentally capable of completing the program.

“We push them to strive to do better. They can become the version of themselves that they want to be, and we help them realize that,” Ladner said.

The structured, disciplined, and routine-oriented environment helps teenagers work through their days using the military model. Though graduates of the program have a high success rate in joining the armed forces, the cadets are in no way required to join or become affiliated with the military, and are encouraged to pursue whatever brighter future they may envision.

“It’s an outlet, not an institution. We go to schools, the Department of Social Services, health centers, and juvenile detention centers and reach out to them,” said Ladner. The program instills a newfound sense of confidence and encourages ambition in youths who attend. These adolescents are able to undergo job skill training, gain experience with leadership, and, in some cases, obtain high school credit recovery so that they may attain their diploma.

Additionally, ChalleNGe works with participants after they have graduated, continuing to ensure the brightest future imaginable. ChalleNGe helps former participants enroll in college or trade school, start on a career path, or join the military. As of 2019, more than 145,000 students have graduated from the NGYCP. Ladner is firm in the belief that ChalleNGe creates a positive impact in the life of every adolescent who comes to the program.
For more information regarding the Tarheel Challenge Academy, please log on to or contact recruiter Rita Ladner at