Kentucky Youth Challenge reunites sisters

Christen and Jessi Wilson

Jessi Wilson (right) is a cadet at the Kentucky National Guard’s Appalachian Challenge Academy in Harlan while her sister Christen is a cadet at the Bluegrass Challenge Academy at Fort Knox. The two have made a fresh start after a chance meeting during a Challenge Academy event.  (Photo courtesy Appalachian Challenge Academy)

HARLAN, Ky. — The Kentucky National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe is a 22-week program designed to help at-risk youth get a jump start on life. With two academies in Kentucky — the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy at Fort Knox and the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in Harlan — the curriculum covers extensive academic studies geared toward completing a high school diploma as well as physical fitness, leadership and community awareness projects.

Following is commentary from Jessi Wilson, a cadet with the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in Harlan. Both she and her sister Christen are scheduled to graduate on December 14.

My sister, Christen Wilson, and I had a terrible relationship as sisters in the past. But now we do not. I am going to tell you how the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy and the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy have changed our relationship.

My sister is a cadet at Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy in Fort Knox, Kentucky. She was born on May 3, 1995. She is exactly one year, three hours and twenty-one minutes older than me. We have never gotten along our entire life. In the past, my sister and I would nit pick at each other. We would fight constantly over childish things. We also could not stand the sight of each other. We would fight because we were hard-headed and stubborn. We also had really bad attitudes toward each other.

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Youth Challenge cadets boarding a Kentucky National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helcopter in preparation for an orientiation flight in Frankfort, Ky. (U.S Army National Guard photo by Staff Scott Raymond)

Everything changed on 9/11/13, when ACA went to Frankfort for a tour of the state capital and a ride on a Blackhawk helicopter. I never expected my sister to be there. ACA rode the Blackhawk first that day. After we finished riding the Blackhawk, we began to eat lunch. As I finished eating my lunch, I looked up and saw BCA pulling in. I hollered at Sergeant Card and told him that my sister was with BCA and that I did not want to see her. I sat back down to talk with my fellow cadets.

Next thing I heard was Master Sgt. Henry saying, “Cadet Wilson, on your feet! Ma’am we don’t have all day.” I was thinking in my head, “What did I do to get in trouble?”

When I reached Master Sgt. Henry, I saw my sister. It surprised me to see her. Things and feelings towards my sister changed. I could tell my sister’s attitude had changed since being at BCA. I was standing there in complete shock. Master Sgt. Henry told me that it was okay to hug her and ask her how her days at BCA have been. Well, I became an adult. I hugged her and wanted to talk, but I was speechless. This same day, I wanted to give my sister the apology that she had been waiting for. I have owed her an apology for years.

After meeting each other for the first time in two months, we got a picture together. We finally got approved to write each other letters, thanks to our first sergeants from each academy. I became an adult again. I wrote my sister giving her the apology that I owed her for the years that I did not treat her right, and also asked her if we could restart our sisterhood. She wrote me back saying that she did want to restart our sisterhood and become close.

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Youth Challenge cadets waiting for their turn for an orientation flight on a Kentucky National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helcopter. (U.S Army National Guard photo by Staff Scott Raymond)

Since I wrote my sister asking her if she wanted to restart our relationship, it has dawned on me that just because I may not like the choices my sister makes, that does not mean that I need to treat her wrong. I realized that the rule “treat others the way you want to be treated” is true. We now talk about anything and everything, and actually talk about things without fighting. I want to continue this new relationship with my sister. If we do not continue this relationship, no matter what she does or how she lives, I will always love her for who she is with all of my heart.

In the future, if my sister and I were to come to find ourselves on the rocky path that we were once on, I would change a lot of things. For instance, if we were to argue over who does the dishes, I would compromise to either one of these two choices: I do half of the dishes and she does the other half, or she washes and I rinse or vice versa.

Now that I have been through this program at Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy, I have seen the different cultures and personalities that exist between teenagers. This program has helped me in several ways. I was the wild child of the family; I loved to do the craziest things. I have learned that fighting is not the way to solve problems between each other, but that talking the problem out is the route to success of solving problems.

Sometimes you have to be the bigger person in life. Being the bigger person will always earn you the respect that you want from others. Also, in this program I learned that having a “bad attitude” will never get you back on the right path to success.

For more information:

Click here for Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy at Fort Knox, or call 1-877-599-6884 or email dorothy.m.heffelfinger.nfg@mail.mil

Click here for Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in Harlan, or call 1-855-596-4927 or email melinda.f.dillman.nfg@mail.mil

Click here to read about the top five myths about the Kentucky National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program

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