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The Florida National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy (FLYCA) is a community-based program that leads, trains and mentors at-risk youth to help them develop the necessary skills to become upstanding citizens and productive members of society. The academy promotes adult responsibility, values and basic lifestyle changes by providing a demanding, highly regimented, motivational environment. In this voluntary program, 16- to 18-year-old high school dropouts, or those at risk of quitting school, are immersed in a rigorous five-and-a-half month residential phase loosely mirroring the U.S. military’s basic training. During the 12-month post-residential phase, each cadet who graduates from the residential phase is matched with a mentor from the community. The mentor helps the cadet focus on and accomplish shortand long-term personal goals.

Last year, 332 cadets graduated from the program from throughout the state of Florida and were directly impacted by FLYCA.

Since its beginning in July 2001, FLYCA has graduated 3,863 cadets from 61 of Florida’s 67 counties from the five-and-a-half month residential phase. Through the course of their stay at the Academy, these cadets have contributed over 290,000 hours of service to Florida communities, producing an economic benefit equivalent to approximately $2 million.

Some cadets who choose to enroll in and complete the high school credit recovery program discover a second chance to graduate high school. One such example is former cadet Gilberto Santiesteban, who graduated from the FLYCA program in December 2014 earned enough credits to graduate with his high school senior class the following June. Finding that he was able to thrive in the structure that FLYCA provided, former cadet Santiesteban is currently planning on joining the Navy.

This past year, the FLYCA cadets had the opportunity to participate in Construction Career Days, providing an authentic look at various aspects of the construction industry that included hands-on learning labs, sparking interest in the field from a variety of cadets. Cadets also had the opportunity to volunteer in supporting the fledgling Jacksonville Armada Football (soccer) Club. In addition, cadets were able to participate in other community events such as the Jacksonville Veteran’s Day parade.