Puerto Rico National Guard Youth Program Develops Future Leaders

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Eliezer Soto
  • 156th Wing

More than 220 cadets with the Puerto Rico Youth ChalleNGe Academy, Class 23-02, graduated from the 22-week educational program with their high school diplomas as well as certificates in vocational or technical courses, Sept. 15, 2023. 

“The Youth ChalleNGe Academy Program has changed the lives of thousands of youths who --for one reason or another-- abandoned their studies and saw in the Academy the opportunity to grow and develop, acquiring life skills and technical skills.  I congratulate each of these 223 youths who have taken this important step toward their future,” said the adjutant general of Puerto Rico, Maj. Gen. Miguel Méndez.

The Puerto Rico Youth ChalleNGe Academy, which has graduated more than 8,000 young cadets in 24 years, has the primary mission of reclaiming 16 - 18-year-olds who are dropouts or at risk, and provide them with functional discipline in a quasi-military environment by focusing on academic education, leadership, and physical training, personal growth ,and community service.

“Our Academy is focused on rescuing youths from becoming school deserters or who are at risk, transforming their lives with useful tools so that they may continue studying or to help them join the workforce,” said Matilde Almodóvar Acosta, Youth ChalleNGe Academy director.

Edgardo “Capu” Soto, the PRNG Youth ChalleNGe Academy public affairs and community coordinator, said that “family is an essential part of our training.” “We integrate parents through workshops about diverse topics while we train their children, which promotes a family and community environment in our academy that provides the necessary support to our cadets.”

An accurate representation of family and service as essential aspects of the PRNG Youth ChalleNGe Academy is Cadet Jan López’s story. He is a 3rd Platoon, Wolfpack, Class 23-02 graduate, whose father, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Héctor López Rosa, a financial management technician with 156th Comptroller Flight, is part of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. 

“The Youth ChalleNGe Academy program has positively impacted my son through its teaching and learning methods, but it also has had an effect on our family, as they all had a key role in supporting him throughout the whole process,” said Senior Airman López Rosa. “My respects to my son; I am extremely happy and proud of him, and know that great things are coming for him in the future."

Motivated by his father and his friend, Derek Rios Baez, a former cadet with the PRNG Youth ChalleNGe Academy, Cadet Jan Lopez decided to join the program.

“I have known Derek since we studied in elementary school; he graduated with the previous class in March of this year, and he inspired me to join through his testimony about the program,” said Cadet Lopez. “Something very unique, which also motivated me to join the Youth ChalleNGe Academy, is having my dad serving as a member of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.” 

Cadet López mentioned that, despite experiencing frustrations at the beginning of the course, he was able to better connect with the overall learning experience thanks to his family’s support and the mentorship from the Youth ChalleNGe Academy cadres.

“Being away from my family was my biggest challenge during this program, but it also motivated me to overcome any situation and complete the ultimate goal, graduating,” said Cadet López. “Also, the cadres’ mentorship, along with the course’s spiritual components, filled me with joy and faith during the course of the program.”

Described by one of his class cadres as a well-disciplined and respectful cadet, Lopez distinguished himself among his classmates.

“Cadet López was an exemplary cadet who treated staff members and peers with much respect, while also promoting respect among other cadets in his class,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Axel I. Fonrodona, a cadre with the Puerto RicoYouth ChalleNGe Academy.

Fonrodona, a 23-year-old cadre, also expressed the importance of how the Youth ChalleNGe Academy provides a unique opportunity for young cadets to develop a better version of themselves, just like Cadet López.

“Because of my age, many cadets tend to relate to me because of my youth, and that is why my goal as a cadre in this organization has always been to make sure each cadet improves as a professional, as a family member, and as a human being while also having goals in mind,” said Fonrodona. “The most gratifying aspect of my job is seeing a cadet develop himself into something great upon my watch.”