(To State Legislators) Let me introduce my comments by saying that I don’t often, if ever, write to my Legislators so this should be a testament to how strongly I feel about writing to you now. This letter is to communicate to you the positive impact the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy has had on our family, but in particular my son, Cadet Dylan Hoopes who graduated with the Class of 16-1 in June of 2016.
Thirteen months ago I was in a very dark place as a parent. I was struggling daily with raising a very angry young man who was acting out in every way possible to put a permanent damper on his future. As a senior at our local high school, Dylan was serving an 18-month probation sentence for Battery and skating by with a 1.6 GPA. He would probably graduate, but there would not be any institutes of higher education flagging him down for admittance. Dylan’s ability to achieve gainful employment and live in accordance with the law was not at all promising either. With his confidence low, Dylan was struggling to maintain compliance with his probation requirements that included attention to his school work. As a result, his probation officer was looking for options to help him make a life change. Needless to say, my relationship with my son was very strained and I relied heavily on his probation officer to help me parent during this time. Dylan had maintained an attitude of “I can do what I want as long as I don’t get caught.” His probation officer was wonderful, but we were both running out of time and options to help him understand the detriment of his actions and turn his life around.
January 20, 2016 was the day that proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as my then 18-year-old son found himself in the county jail with ten days hanging over his head for a probation violation. Together with the prosecuting attorney, his probation officer wasted no time in offering a chance at picking himself up and turning himself around. That chance was the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy. He was angry and stubborn at first, but after two days in jail, and a lot of counsel from those who cared most about him, he conceded. I picked him up from the jail and within 24-hours he was on his way to a new outlook and a new life. To his credit, he accepted the ChalleNGe and did indeed, turn his life around.
My son had not always been angry and underachieving. He was once a young man who loved school, sports, the 4-H program, Scouting and church activities. He excelled in everything he did. Because he was an only child and I a single parent, he was the focus of my attention at all times and we enjoyed a very loving relationship until his teenage years. As an educator, I was well versed in parenting styles and strategies. However, it seemed the older he got, nothing I tried worked and I felt I was fighting a losing battle.
Dylan entered the program angry and afraid, but he gained confidence quickly as he decided that doing the right thing was much better than being “put on his face” when he made a wrong choice. He learned that the world didn’t owe him anything and that if he were to achieve anything in this life, he would have to earn it by hard work and grit. He re-learned character traits that he had pushed to the side during years of rebellion. He re-learned that he was an intelligent person who could do math, write essays, and present himself as a respectful and articulate person. He learned that he could be a leader and a positive role model to those around him. (As a result of this, he held several leadership positions during his enrollment there.) He learned that it felt good to do good things and be of service to those around him. As he built a rapport with his superiors, he learned that as he behaved in a trustworthy fashion, he had the ability to earn their trust; something he became very protective of. He learned focus and to make worthy goals. He left the Academy with an overall 2.8 GPA having earned a 3.7 GPA in his classes there; something he never accomplished in three and a half years at our local high school. Most of all, he found himself again and could then see that his potential is infinite.
My son now attends Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston. He is in his second semester of the Auto-Mechanics Program and doing well. However, he is increasingly interested in changing his major from a technical program to an academic program. He is employed part-time and is downright excited to employ the financial and career lessons he learned at the Academy and to leave college without student loan debt. His confidence is growing and he is making good choices with those he surrounds himself with, personal finance and personal work habits. He is a 10-hour drive away from home, but he takes great comfort in knowing that the Academy is only a couple hours away and if he ever needed something he could call anyone from IDYCA for help. He often jokes that he would like to just drive up there and lay in his old bunk for a few minutes every now and then, but what he really misses is drill practice. By that same token, he loves his fellow cadets like brothers and would do anything in his power to encourage and see them successful as well.
Lastly, it is said that “there is nothing better than your adult child telling you they love you.” After a very long dry spell, those words are now flowing freely again. Hearing him apologize for putting me through years of torment, acknowledging that I did the best I could and that I was “a good mom”…man, there just isn’t anything better. I, in turn, often thank him for putting so much effort into living a good life, making good choices, and giving me the opportunity to tell people how well he is doing. To this he modestly replies, “No prob.” He is no longer angry with himself or with me. Our relationship is one of mutual respect and I will forever be grateful that he made the choice to take the ChalleNGe to change his course in life.
As I stated at the beginning of this letter, I am writing to you to offer my heartfelt support for the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy. I hope I have illustrated for you, how much this program has impacted not just my son’s life, but our family life as well. As I mentor parents who currently have a son or daughter at the Academy, I continue to tell them the same thing week in and week out. I tell them that I know it is hard to watch their child struggle to overcome hard things, but “trust the process”. This group of dedicated staff, educators, and cadre know what they are doing. They love and care for our cadets with an affection that even we as parents cannot understand. I am a believer in faith, and faith requires that you trust something that you cannot fully understand. The military aspect was something new for me and seemed harsh at the outset, but I am proud to say that now I am a believer!
Thank you for your time in reading this letter. I hope whatever decisions you make, they will be in support of this amazing program. They deserve every ounce of recognition and support that we can give them for the amount of direction and healing they have provided for our youth and our families in Idaho who are struggling to regain a path to good citizenship and productive living.