Not beyond hope

Published 9:56 pm Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It’s popular to assert that children who have attained their teenage years are so set in their ways as to be beyond the influence of the adults in their lives. Corporal punishment, if it ever was an option, is no longer realistic for a 15-year-old, and the habits of disrespect and disobedience are so well ingrained in some youth by that time that their parents and other affected adults conclude the teens are not teachable, that their ways are set.

There is plenty of evidence contrary to that “common knowledge.” Nationwide, there are many group homes for troubled teens that have 100-percent rates of college scholarship attainment. There are places where lives are turned around, seemingly when they already are beyond hope.

Right here in Hampton Roads, there is Commonwealth ChalleNGe, the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. A couple of times a year, the organization takes a group of teenagers whose lives are headed in the wrong direction, teaches the youth about setting — and reaching — goals, puts them on a strict program intended to get them in shape both physically and mentally and turns out young people who have been transformed.

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“If it weren’t for this program, I’d have no future. I probably wouldn’t be going to school at all. I’d be in bed or whatever, watching TV. Being in this program has me wanting to accomplish things. I have dreams.”

Those are the words of DeAndra Bazemore, one of the youth in the infamous fight video that turned up on YouTube last school year. Today, she’s working toward her GED, enrolled in the 22-week residential part of the ChalleNGe. Whereas she used to fight “just because it was hot outside,” today she has dreams and aspirations. She and others in the program have been transformed through hard work, love and discipline.

This is a program that once faced the chopping block when state legislators and the governor were negotiating over budget cuts. Bazemore is clearly thankful that the politicians were able to save the program, and even the politicians should be proud that a way was found to save it.

But there’s an important lesson here for parents, as well. Even if your children will never get a chance to participate in the Commonwealth ChalleNGe, never give up on trying to make a difference in their lives. Hope is never lost; it’s only given up.