BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After weeks of learning new life skills and self-discipline, hundreds of teens graduated from the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program with a new outlook on life.
A little more than five months ago, a group teens was thought to be headed down a path of destruction.
"Kids comes here, sometimes at the third grade level, and just 22 weeks leave here at the 12th grade level," said Col. Michael Borrell with the Youth Challenge Program.
Many were struggling to make the cut in school.
"I wanted to make my attitude better and how I thought about everything," said Kasi Lambert, a graduate of the program.
But walking in caps and honor cord draped gowns Saturday, 258 young women and men are graduates.
"It helped me get on track and really think about what I want to do with my life and stop playing around," said Kameron Jones, another program graduate.
Teens from across Louisiana embarked on a road to make life altering changes in the National Guard Youth Challenge Program.
"I didn't want to go, but I knew it was best for me," Jones added.
"I wanted to be a better me and be a role model for my sister, so I was like, 'I'm going to do this,'" Lambert explained.
The program reclaims the lives of 16 to 18-year-olds. They stay on a campus, away from family for weeks. They're given a chance to gain a high school diploma and up to 15 hours of college credit for free.
And to make sure they stay on the path of making good decisions, a mentor stays in touch with each cadet for a year after the program ends.
"We want the kids to do one of three things: get a job, or continue education or join the military," Borrell stated.
"It's changed me in a lot of different ways. I'm happier and I'm more positive. It takes away your freedom for a little bit, but in the end, it's really worth it," Lambert said.
And the program continues to speak for itself, having already boosted the confidence of more than 20,000 kids statewide.
"I'm proud of myself, that I made it," Jones said.
This National Guard Youth Challenge Program is one of three available in the state.