SC program guiding underprivileged teens to productive paths - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

SC program guiding underprivileged teens to productive paths

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The South Carolina Youth Challenge Academy has been around for more than 20 years and it's guiding teens to a productive path -- a path many weren't on before.

Columbia is making a special push this week to put a stop to youth violence. This program not only discourages that lifestyle, but shows them something better.

Cadets at the Youth Challenge endure 5 1/2 months of intense training including academics, physical fitness, and life skills to get the teens on the right track and stay there to succeed.

"I dropped out of school because I wasn't attending school," said Cadet Megan Jones. "I felt like I had better things to do, like hang out with other dropouts."

Megan is one of many teens who quickly realized their track wasn't leading anywhere.

"I was skipping school hanging around the wrong crowd of friends," said Cadet Oeisia Witherspoon.

"I was going to school but when I was in the streets, I was doing everything the wrong way I was going about everything the wrong way," said Cadet Jermaine Page.

These 16 to 18 year olds are in class every day with field trips on Fridays. They're learning to expand their minds and their goals and leaving the negativity behind.

"It gives them the opportunity to not take the path that maybe their family members or their brothers or sisters took, but take a positive track to tell them they can do something, they can succeed in life as long as they believe in themselves, they can achieve any goal," said program coordinator Shakeesta Caldwell.

Part of the National Guard and set at the McCrady Training Center, the teens have the chance to earn their GED and many choose enlist in the military when they graduate.

"I've always been in trouble in school since I was little, so I wanted to come here so I can also get a recommendation for the United States Air Force," said Cadet Michael Centeno.

The program can be a life-changer. Cadet Page says it's certainly changed his.

"Either prison or dead, one of the two. I don't want to see neither one, to be honest. That's why I'm glad I came here."

Rules and respect: The teens aren't allowed to deviate from either. And by the end, they have a choice to make.

"I'm more strong-willed to do what's right because I know that there's consequences now and I want to do what's right now," said Cadet Jones.

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