Apr 2, 2023 | by The Fellowship
Last fall my granddaughter, a junior in high school in Michigan, learned of a state program named Michigan Youth Challenge that was very appealing to her. It is a 19-week intensive program, much like Army Boot Camp, for males and females that teaches discipline, physical conditioning, leadership skills, and vocational training as well as required education courses.
The biggest appeal for her was that a high school diploma is awarded upon completion of the rigorous program. She could finish high school a year early! School has always been a challenge for her. Adopted when she was 18 months old by my daughter and son-in-law, this precious granddaughter had been born to a woman addicted to alcohol and drugs. As a result, my granddaughter has problems with cognitive thinking, especially reading and remembering what she is learning. With these learning disabilities, school is very difficult. Even though she has managed to scrape by with C’s and D’s, it has been a never-ending grind. To graduate as a junior instead of a senior sounded fantastic!
She asked her parents if she could apply for Michigan Youth Challenge. After lots of discussion, they gave her permission to apply. Much information and documentation were required, but eventually she received an acceptance letter with instructions to report on January 15.
On the appointed day, her parents drove her to the campus two hours away. She was assigned to a bed in a barrack with other girls, and her life was going to change drastically. Suddenly the enormity of what would be required of her hit, and she burst into tears and pleaded with her parents to take her home with them. They reminded her of how she had begged for this opportunity and all the work it had taken to apply. It was only a few months until graduation on June 16. They lovingly told her goodbye and left. It was the first time she had been away from home.
One of the program restrictions was no contact with anyone on the outside except by letter. Parting with a phone is a trauma for any teen! It was possible to earn one phone call a week by great performance. The best way I could think of to encourage her was to write every day so she would always have at least one letter at mail call. In those letters, I constantly reminded her of my unceasing prayers for her success!
Each cadet was evaluated individually, and my granddaughter was required to earn 14 education credits to get a high school diploma. Classes are taken online. But schoolwork is just part of her day which starts very early and includes rigorous physical activity, leadership training, vocational instruction, and community service – all accompanied by very strict discipline. Excellent performance is rewarded with increase in rank which brings extra privileges.
Once realizing that she was there to stay, my granddaughter decided to give it her best. She immediately started making good grades in her courses -- A’s and B’s. The faculty accommodated her learning disability by verbally asking test questions instead of requiring her to read them, and it made a difference. She began attending church services and has requested a Bible and a highlighter. My granddaughter was named a platoon leader. After one month, she was promoted to private. Oh, how we all rejoiced at her success! My granddaughter began feeling good about herself.
She set her sights on becoming a private first class and that happened the first week in March. But then she made a costly mistake! Another girl had gotten hold of a kit for homemade tattoos and approached her about trying it. She agreed! Luckily, they were caught before actually doing it, but the consequences were severe. She lost her rank of private first class!
My granddaughter was very upset with herself. “I hate myself for being so stupid,” she wrote me. “I worked so hard to become a private first class … just to lose it. But I hope to get it back!” Her sergeant gave her motivation to not give up by saying, “You are going somewhere in this world!” Another blessing is a teacher from her former high school who writes her a letter of encouragement every week.
Her vocational training is preparing her to become an EMT. For many years her dream has been to work on a maternity ward in a hospital. My prayer is that the medical knowledge she is gaining will provide a foundation for attaining her dream.
My granddaughter has now completed 10 of her 14 education requirements. She loves the variety of community service that is compulsory and also eagerly looks forward to going to church each week. It is such an adventure to be on this journey with her through the letters we constantly exchange. How rewarding to see the life skills she is learning and the self-confidence that is blossoming. I am trusting the Lord to be with her every step of the way and to help her meet every challenge. He has a wonderful plan for her life and His love for her endures forever.
You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.