Mrs. Georgia-America visits Fort Stewart
Mrs. Georgia-America 2010, LaLona Richards, poses with Youth Challenge Academy cadets during a visit to the National Guard-sponsored program site at Fort Stewart, Aug. 20. A former teacher, Richards is on a year-long speaking tour promoting "Equality in Education." Youth Challenge Academy provides "at risk" youth with academic and life skills necessary to be gainfully employed and be productive citizens.

<b>FORT STEWART, Ga. </b> -The newly crowned Mrs. Georgia-America 2010, LaLona Richards, visited, listened to and spoke with cadets at Fort Stewart's Youth Challenge Academy, Aug. 20. A former middle school teacher from the Atlanta area, Richards visited Youth Challenge Academy as part of her year-long speaking tour of the state and nation.

Richard's visit to Youth Challenge Academy was fitting, given her background as a teacher and her new role representing the accomplishments and concerns of married women and moms across the state. As Mrs. Georgia-America, this wife and mother of two young boys is on a mission to promote "Equality in Education."

She challenges business and community leaders to improve educational opportunities in low income areas of the state, offers seminars on physical fitness and nutrition, and discusses Family relationships. She also works with the Music Education National Council to promote music education in schools.

During her visit to Youth Challenge Academy, Richards listened to six cadets as they explained how they came into the program, which began in 1993 and is located in the Georgia National Guard Training Center at Fort Stewart and Brems Barracks at Fort Gordon. According to Bob Hughes, director, the purpose of the academy is to provide "at risk" youth with academic and life skills training that will improve their employment potential and make them more productive citizens.

Training is divided into a two-week Pre-Challenge Phase, a 20-week Residential Challenge Phase and a 12-week Post Residential Phase. In addition to a self-paced academic program in which one-on-one instruction is provided, students learn discipline. One cadet told Richards and a group of visitors that they were up at 5 a.m. and in bed for "quiet time" by 9 p.m. Another cadet explained that if they're not quiet, the lights will be turned back on and cadre will find exercises and activities enough so they'll look forward to going to bed.

Cadets are trained in military drill and ceremony, customs and courtesies, teamwork, military leadership, physical fitness, first aid, survival, climbing and rappelling. They also learn life skills, like how to meet adult obligations, manage personal finances, insurance, health and hygiene, Family planning, stress management, community service and citizenship. They even learn work skills like how to write a rAfAsumAfA, fill out an employment application or respond to questions during a job interview. Youth Challenge Academy offers an Academy Diploma or GED Diploma for those that complete the program.

All of the six cadets that spoke to Mrs. Georgia-America said they appreciated what they had learned, noting that even though they had come from abusive homes, used drugs or had been involved in gang activity, they now knew how to turn their lives around. One young man said he was planning to join the Marine Corps when he completes the program. Another said he was going into the nursing program.

Roger Lotson, deputy director for Youth Challenge Academy, told Richards and the other visitors the cadets were given everything they needed to get their lives together. In order to be eligible for Youth Challenge Academy, youth must be at least 16 but not yet 19 years old, a high school dropout, legal Georgia resident, unemployed or underemployed, drug free and not involved in the judicial system. For more information, go to

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16