SALEMBURG — Tarheel ChalleNGe is celebrating 20 years, and Colonel Edward W. Timmons, Sr. is looking forward to bringing that celebration to the community. The school has been a staple in the area, he said, and it shares a history built on hard work and determination.
“We will be emphasizing a tribute throughout the entire year,” said Timmons, ChalleNGe’s director, in an interview at the campus this week.
“The birthday was in March,” he said. “We will be highlighting and capturing what we have been doing since March.”
Timmons said the academy provides a “commendable: service to North Carolina and its at risk youth. Tarheel ChalleNGe spends around $14,500 for each cadet, but there is no charge for the students who participate in the program. They don’t have to pay for anything other than personal items, the director said.
The program consists of a 5 1/2 month, or 22 week, residential program followed by a non-resident phase that lasts a year and focuses students on their career path under the supervision and assistance of a mentor. In addition to the current class, three other classes are being tracked at any given time, Timmons said.
The celebration will be a time to talk about all things ChalleNGe, including its focus moving into the future.
“We are working on capturing the history of the entire program since its first location in Clinton,” Timmons explained, gesturing to a picture that is hanging in his office of that first building, located on U.S. 701 near Keener.
Tarheel ChalleNGe is also making a video with testimonials from parents, former students and cadres as well as staff that has been employed over the last 20 years.
“We are leveraging technology to get the story out across the state,” Timmons explained. “Plus we will continue the tours of the academy.” Invitations are being sent to key leaders for visits as well as to educational supporters, like the NC Association for Educators and the NC Counseling Association.
He is working on getting the word out to judges, probation officers, civic leaders and churches about what they do at Tarheel ChalleNGe as well as who they are.
“We are also informing civic organizations like the Shriners and sororities,” he detailed. “We are getting the word out. “It’s about celebrating the past, embracing the present, and forging the future.” With education being the common theme over the year, they are also working on planning a special event for Veterans Day.
“This current group just finished the acclimation phase of training,” he said. “Students aren’t cadets yet, they are still candidates.” He said that they started with 179 students and they are down to 163.
“We are giving these students a fair assessment, and the opportunity to redirect their lives,” he said. Tarheel ChalleNGe encourages folks that hear of a kid that drops out to pass on their name, with hopes of saving some of those lost individuals.
“As idealistic as I may be be, we can’t save everybody,” he explained, candidly. “But we made history in June of this year. We graduated the largest number of cadets in one class, 132 cadets. And with this being the 20th year — that’s a major milestone.”
Statistically the nation has 1.2 million high school dropouts a year, he said, with that being one every 26 seconds. North Carolina had over 21,000 dropouts, with some reports noting that that number is more like 50,000, he explained.
“I’m not surprised by anything and I come in charged and focused every day,” Timmons said. “This is a high risk environment, and that is what you are dealing with every day.”
“I don’t believe there are bad kids,” he said, adding that perseverance can make a large difference.
This year, with the current class, Tarheel ChalleNGe stands to graduate its 4,000th student, and to Timmons that is even more important as the 20th year celebrations continue.
Not only is the anniversary a big deal, but employees have even more to celebrate.
“As of July 1, all employees of Tarheel ChalleNGe became state employees,” he detailed. “It was long overdue but it presents another set of challenges.”
Timmons said his goal is to make the academy a premier academy for the 21st century. He wants people to recognize the values and the benefits of the program, provided through a federal and state partnership.
“Tarheel ChalleNGe has brought over $42 million to the state,” he divulged. “And it’s right in your backyard. We hire local under the merit system using the state bidding process.”
Right now they have graduated 3,938 students from 92 of 100 counties in the state.
“We have awarded 2,687 GEDs and have had 364 cadets enlisted in the military and Armed Forces, including the National Guard,” he said. “We have 353,398 service to the community hours.” Plus they have had numerous volunteers and mentors. Approximately 30 percent of the students have enrolled in college or traditional schools, he said.
“One of the benefits is that 90 percent of the youth have been motivated towards employment, enlistment, or school,” said Timmons, adding that these students are drug and alcohol free, as well as smoke free.
Tarheel ChalleNGe, the director said, teaches life coping skills and each cadet has to write a life plan, and it gives these students new opportunity to succeed, helping them with their developmental process.
“As director, I go over every plan,” Timmons said, explaining that he often offers other options or directions when he can.
“I want to plant a seed in the group and individuals,” he divulged. “I hope they take these life skills with them to make better choices and decisions.”
Cadets work on team work, confidence and skills, Timmons said. “We provide for their spiritual as well as mental needs.” Students go to their first church accommodations, and after that it is strictly volunteer.
“We observe the Sabbath, and do our community service on Saturday, giving the students a day of rest and preparation,” Timmons said. “They can study and relax, and that observance of that, it gets them prepared for Monday.” Their week day starts at 5:30 a.m. with physical training and breakfast, and then it’s off to class.
Tarheel ChalleNGe also now has their ChalleNGe “Walk of Fame” which will come into play in the coming events. The monument is surrounded by bricks which can be sponsored. There are also three benches around the monument donated by the 2014 June classes. Tarheel ChalleNGe will be holding an activity day for the 20 year celebration, but as of now that exact date is undecided.
For more information about Tarheel ChalleNGe visit their website at nc-tcachallenge.org.
Reach Emily M. Hobbs at 910-644-0447. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.