Kentucky Youth, Leaders by Choice at Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy

By Keaton Burton, Kentucky National Guard Family Programs

Kaitlyn King, a 2014 graduate of the Appalachian Challenge Academy credits her success-driven mentality to her peers, mentors and siblings, all of which motivated her through a trying 22 weeks at the academy in Harlan, Ky. King is one of the 121,000 Challenge alumni that are improving themselves and their local communities through leadership and service. (Courtesy photo)

Kaitlyn King, a 2014 graduate of the Appalachian Challenge Academy credits her success-driven mentality to her peers, mentors and siblings, all of which motivated her through a trying 22 weeks at the academy in Harlan, Ky. King is one of the 121,000 Challenge alumni that are improving themselves and their local communities through leadership and service. (Courtesy photo)

HARLAN, Ky. –Kaitlyn King, a once highly decorated graduate of Class 005, 2014 at Harlan, Kentucky’s Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy (ACA) is a part of the 121,000 ChalleNGe Alumni that are improving themselves and their local communities through leadership and service. King, a leader by choice and calling, credits her success-driven mentality to her peers, mentors and siblings, all of which motivated her through a trying 22 weeks at ACA.

“I am amazed by how much they cared,” King said. “They knew nothing about us…we did not want to disappoint them. We did not want to let the down.”

King credits the ACA structure that enabled her to finalize personal goals and improvement. Sgt. Deraya Ulbrich, a proud member of the academy’s cadre said, “This was Kaitlyn’s door, and I am overjoyed this program is here to get others on their own feet and pursue their own future.”

Kentucky is home to two of the 40 ChalleNGe programs in the United States- ACA and the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy at Fort Knox. ACA is a part of the National Guard’s nation-wide initiative to help 16-18 year-olds graduate with the values, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults.

ACA Director Joshua Coldiron explained the program adds to their cadet’s tool belts of success, achieved through the eight core components of ACA including citizenship, fife coping skills, leadership/followership and other self improvement pillars.

“We develop an individual educational plan acclimated to their current academic standings while exposing cadets to discipline, structure and service to community projects,” said Coldiron.

The foundation of the academy and its components is the support system that can exist between cadet’s and ACA faculty. Coldiron encourages all cadets to take ownership of the program and to pursue interests in and outside of the facility, ensuring staff makes maximum efforts to aid their cadets in accomplishing goals. An enduring example is the relationship between Ulbrich and King.

Ulbrich described her early relationship with King as a coaching experience through physical training in order to fulfill King’s goal of improving her health. In time, Ulbrich became a motherly figure in the cadet’s life, a relationship between two like-minded individuals that still exists today.

Neither is fond of the limelight, but they still challenge each other. Ulbrich continued to push King while offering parent-like guidance and support. Upon learning more of King’s past, Ulbrich grew more understanding of her mentality.

She often reminded King, “This is your time to grow, to be a teenager and improve yourself.” It was an opportunity that was non-existent at home.

Ulbrich said King was a natural leader, an attribute developed from her home-life where she served as the backbone of her household and caretaker of seven younger siblings. The “motherly-hen” role transcended from her siblings onto her fellow cadets, leading Ublrich to advise King to pursue ACA as an opportunity for herself.

Within 22 weeks, the steadfast cadet graduated ACA with 13 certificates and two medals, completed her remaining credits to receive her high school diploma and lost more than 30 pounds. King also gained acceptance into the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps and earned the State Foundation Scholarship toward her education at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, all goals set in mid-September, 2014 during her 22 weeks in the academy.

Today, King is a sophomore at Big Sandy Community and Technical College where she studies criminology and was recently earned a spot on the 2016 Spring Dean’s and President’s List while accomplishing her security trade skill at the job corps.

The former cadet, and soon to be college graduate continues her mission that started at the academy to “improve self, refine skills and become more equipped” as she arranges her career path. Despite Kings schedule, she rarely misses an ACA graduation, demonstrating the support system living inside Harlan’s, Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy.

Learn more about ChalleNGe at www.kychallenge.org.

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