Cadet Graduate says he found his way with the Youth Academy
Jamal White says as a teenager he may have made a lot of poor choices. But the best choice he made was to attend the Washington Youth ChalleNGe Academy.
White, now 27 and living in Federal Way, says he has a full-time security job and a family. Speaking to Youth Academy graduates of the current cycle during commencement on Dec. 15 at Tacoma Community College, he noted, “If you’re stuck, if you need advice, if you just need someone to support a decision you’re making, your families will be there, too. Just talk to them. There are unlimited resources to get you to be successful. You just have to be willing to reach out to them. You just joined a community that wants you to have your own success story. I am who I am today because of this academy.”
Admittedly, though, White said it wasn’t easy to bounce back after graduating from the Academy.
After commencement in 2013, White says he was doing well. He had re-enrolled at Decatur High School in Federal Way and enrolled in an extra six online classes to boot. He was focused on one thing: graduation.
And then he achieved it.
“After graduating, I strayed a bit,” he said. “I didn’t have a plan like I should have. After graduating, there was a bit of time where I even became homeless until I met my daughter’s mom. She helped me get back on my feet. When I was about to be homeless, she got me a hotel. When I was unemployed, she helped me find my first security job. I also got the gift my of daughter, who turns six this year. Keeping your integrity going home is tough. If you need help, just ask for it. I wish I did when I was lost. Once a cadet, you’re always a cadet. You won’t be abandoned once you go home. Cadre have Facebook. Your case manager has Facebook. Alumni like myself have Facebook. Reach out if you need help.”
Jen Brystol, the mentoring and placement supervisor at the Washington Youth ChalleNge Academy, says there’s a new program in place specifically to keep graduating cadets in line. No longer is the focus just on graduation, but case managers keep tabs on cadets for two years now with the assistance of regional mentors.
White’s message to cadets leaving the Academy was pretty simple: You’re not alone. Even if you think you’ve figured it all out, you’re still not alone.
“When I was making poor decisions again, it was the lessons I learned at the Youth Academy that got me back on the right path,” White said after the ceremony. “Sometimes you have to fall down a couple times to be able to get back up and stand right.”
Youth Academy Lt. Steve White said he remembers White doing best when he was doing service to community projects, something cadets continue to do today.
“These projects made him so happy because he was giving back to those around him,” White said. “Jamal’s biggest take away was opportunities were always given but what do you do with those opportunities to better those around you? These types of opportunities matter. Without the academy, the cadre, discipline, and integrity instilled upon him he wouldn’t be who he is today.”
White told the graduating cadets, “You are not who you are because of the mistakes you made, you are who you are from the changes you make so continue to make your changes.”