Troubled Teenagers Take A Step Toward Positive Lifestyles

They were once troubled teenagers, but now they're celebrating a major milestone on they way to turning their lives around.

The National Guard's Youth Challenge Program takes in 16-to-18 year olds from across the state who have or who are at risk of dropping out of school. More than 200 arrived at Camp Shelby five months ago looking for a sense of direction. At a graduation ceremony in Hattiesburg some said getting a second chance in life has changed them for the better.

It was much more than a graduation walk. It's was symbol of how the young people have taken a journey away from troubled pasts and toward better futures. Students apply to Youth Challenge for different reasons. Some want to get away from gangs or drugs, but for Walter Crockett of Ocean Springs, school was a struggle.

"If I had quit school which was the direction I was going in I probably wouldn't have joined the military and probably had a dead end job," said Crockett.

Youth Challenge not only helps the teenagers get their G.E.D.s., it also teaches high personal standards through counseling, community service, vocational training, and physical fitness.

Director William Crowson said, "Learning to follow rules and learning to do what people ask you to do is a very important part of the program."

The crowd was full of families proud to watch their "at risk" teens transition into young men and women with goals.

Tiffany Crockett remembers a time when it was hard to get her little brother to go to school.

She said, "He's gotten much more polite. His whole attitude has changed. His attitude towards life has changed even."

From a near drop out to an honors student, Walter Crockett credits some of his success to his fellow graduates. He says when the going got tough, they leaned on one another and in the end they learned one of life's greatest lessons together.

"Try hard never give up anything," he said.

The Mississippi National Guard started the Youth Challenge Program in 1994. Officials said since then, they have helped nearly 3,000 young people get their G.E.D's.