Nat. Guard youth program gets Arabi teen on the right trackApr 12th, 2013 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: School News
In August, 18-year-old Arabi resident Brittaney Smith’s future was anything but certain. After several years of rebellion and fights at school and at home, Smith was expelled less than a month into her Senior year at Chalmette High School. Her parents were fed up and exhausted.
“Brittaney had a track record of behavioral problems, that started really after we moved back after Katrina,” said her mother Christina Smith Williams. “She couldn’t handle anyone telling her what to do, and blew up at anyone who got in her way. Getting expelled was the last straw.”
As Brittaney was rapidly approaching her 18th birthday, Christina and her husband Leo Williams started to grow frantic at what they could do to help their daughter before she was legally an adult and free to venture out into the world with no parental guidance.
“I knew my time was running out with her,” said Christina. She began researching affordable intervention programs that could help her troubled daughter, and miraculously stumbled upon the Louisiana National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program.
The completely free, five-month long program takes in troubled 16 to 18-year-olds and gives them the opportunity to earn a GED in a structured military environment. It was hard work getting Brittaney on
board—the teens have to sign themselves in— but eventually she conceded.
“The first day my mom dropped me off, I saw the cadets lined up as soon as the drill sergeant blew his whistle,” recalled Brittaney. “I was nervous, but I got pretty used to it.”
Unsurprisingly, the first few months were rough for Brittaney and her family alike. Christina fielded nasty letters from her daughter for months, while telling herself that she was doing the right thing. Christina was doubtful about Brittaney’s progress until the first Family Day, when relatives are invited to their cadet’s campus to see them in action.
“We toured the barracks and saw how spotless everything was; their beds were perfectly made and their shoes were polished and neatly lined up,” recalled Christina.
“I remember thinking ‘This is not Brittaney!’”
Brittaney was also given the ability to take ownership of her education through YCP’s rigorous GED program. In her five months in the program, she went from a sixth to 11th grade reading level and passed both reading and the math portions of the test in March.
“It was a lot of teaching yourself,” said Brittaney. “It made me more independent and I think learning that way really gets you ready for college— you’re not always going to have a teacher over you telling you when to do homework and study.”
Brittaney graduated from YCP five days before her 18th Birthday, and is now back at home. Christina is thrilled at the change she’s seen in her daughter, and Brittaney is excited about her future.
“I definitely have more patience now,” said Brittaney.
This fall she’ll be attending Delgado Community College and is interested in pursuing a Veterinary Technician Degree. In a meeting at his office last week, State Rep. Ray Garofalo awarded Brittaney
with a certificate recognizing her hardwork, dedication and acheivement during the Youth Challenge Program. Garofalo said he hopes more youth will be inspired by Brittaney’s plight to make a change in
For more information on the Youth Challenge Program, call 1.800.226.7543 or go to the Louisiana National Guard website at www.ngycp.org/site/state/la. You can also contact Representative Garofalo’s office at 504.278.6599 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.