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Celebs, military, business leaders raise thousands at National Youth Guard ChalleNGe Gala

Indy race car driver JR Hildebrandt, LCCN Reporter Randy Economy and Master of Ceremonies David Cruz from KTLK AM 1150 attend the National Youth Guard Foundation Gala at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles last weekend.

Indy race car driver JR Hildebrandt, LCCN Reporter Randy Economy and Master of Ceremonies David Cruz from KTLK AM 1150 attend the National Youth Guard Foundation Gala at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles last weekend.

By Randy Economy

With Pomp and Military precision the California National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, celebrated its inaugural California ChalleNGe Champions Gala last Saturday night at the historical Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

United States Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (Norwalk) and Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana greeted hundreds of supporters during a red carpet arrival ceremony that included senior National Guard leaders, federal, state and local elected officials, corporate and community leaders, and National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program staff and cadets.

The annual gathering pays tribute to the California National Guard’s efforts to curb high school dropout rates throughout the state, backed by the Youth ChalleNGe Program. Rep. Napolitano serves as the “National Champion” for the cause in the US House of Representatives, while Sen. Landrieu oversees the cause in the US Senate.

The evening was hosted by talk radio host David Cruz, from KTLK AM 1150 and included a reception, a silent auction, followed by a dinner program with live entertainment and a live auction.

“The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program gives young people – particularly at risk teens – the chance to empower themselves through education. Our emphasis on stopping the high school dropout crisis is part of a broader campaign to allow adolescents to reach their full potential, backed by the resources we provide and a shared appreciation for lifelong learning,” Napolitano said in her remarks at the event.

“Tonight we honor the brave men and women who are saving lives of thousands of young people right here in our community,” Cruz told those gathered. “We have to wake up and start saving the lives of our children to the surge of drugs, and violence, and criminal activity,” said Cruz.

Actor Rick Schroeder and Cora and Brian Hews at the National Youth Guard Gala

Actor Rick Schroeder and Cora and Brian Hews at the National Youth Guard Gala.


Jim Tinkham, Executive Director of the National Guard Youth Foundation told Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is a voluntary 17-month intervention program – including a residential phase and mentor phase – that offers adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of school the opportunity to obtain a high school diploma or GED while learning life coping skills, job skills and leadership skills.

Here in California, two academies serve the entire state, helping more than 600 young people each year. One of the academies is stationed at the Los Alamitos Naval Station and the other is in Paso Robles.

United States Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (Norwalk) and Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana greeted hundreds of supporters during a red carpet arrival ceremony that included  senior National Guard leaders, federal, state and local elected officials, corporate and community leaders, and National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program staff and cadets.

United States Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (second from left) and Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana (second from right) honored General James Gabrielli during the National Guard Youth Challenge Gala in front of hundreds of donors, celebrities, members of the military and media.


“It is critical that we give our children every chance to succeed,” Rep. Napolitano told LCCN.

“To date, Youth ChalleNGe has graduated over 110,000 cadets. These are students who might otherwise have dropped out of school but instead were supported as they charted a newer, brighter path through life. The graduates of the Youth ChalleNGe program are committed, disciplined, and conduct their work with pride and focus. We should support this program and others like it to give more young people a path to higher education.”

Serving as a special fundraising advisor to the Gala was Rosemary Economy, of Cerritos. The event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and was hailed as a “huge success” according to Tinkham. Napolitano and Cruz praised Economy’s efforts to “champion the cause that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being raised from very special corporate friends and partners.”

During a live auction, Indy race car driver JR Hildebrandt and Kelly Perdue, the winner of The Apprentice on NBC with Donald Trump raised $42,000 for three winning bidders to enjoy a week at the 2013 Indianapolis 500 as well as an opportunity to ride with legendary race car driver Mario Andretti on the track at a speed of more than 200 miles per hour.

Also attending was Hollywood movie star, actor and producer Rick Schroeder, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Cadets from the National Youth Guard Challenge Program get ready to enter the Gala at the Historic Biltmore Hotel

Cadets from the National Youth Guard Challenge Program get ready to enter the Gala at the Historic Biltmore Hotel.


Locally, the Sunburst Youth Academy, located in Los Alamitos, is a Community High School, run by the California National Guard in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education. The academy is structured to promote an academic environment in which participants develop leadership, cooperation, and academic skills, while improving self-esteem and confidence. Sunburst draws most of its participants from the greater Los Angeles, Norwalk, and Southeast area.

The Grizzly Youth Academy in San Luis Obispo is a Western Association of Schools and
Colleges accredited charter school, administered by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, which provides a highly structured residential environment for young men and women who previously struggled in school due to academic, behavioral, attendance or personal reasons.

Napolitano pointed out that “working as individuals and in groups, students develop skills and characteristics to overcome the obstacles that held them back from being successful.”

The National Guard Bureau currently operates 34 programs in 27 states and Puerto Rico.
Independent studies by MDRC and the RAND Corporation have found the program significantly improves academic achievement, employability and income earning potential for youth who have previously dropped out of school.

According to THE RAND REPORT, cost-benefit analysis found every dollar expended on the program yields $2.66 in benefits, a 166 percent return on investment. More than 100,000 students have graduated from the 34 Youth ChalleNGe Programs.

The Foundation also works to raise awareness of the growing dropout crisis and its impact on the society, economy and national security.

“We are doing the work that is saving the lives of our young people,” Senator Landrieu told LCCN. “We are going to expand. We have to expand our efforts. This program works, and everyone needs to get involved.”

For more information about the National Guard Youth Foundation, please visit www.ngyf.org.

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3 Responses to Celebs, military, business leaders raise thousands at National Youth Guard ChalleNGe Gala

  1. Grateful mom & mentor Reply

    October 6, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Yes, very great night I am mom of two graduates mentor currently Cadet Lopez who spoke at the gala
    And still no words yet can describe the gratitude and awesome community that I saw – all I have to say life is short we all deserve second chances – I continue to pray for all of us with hope for continued patience & love- thank you to all who attended for a memorable night – grateful mom & mentor

  2. Pingback: Veterans News – Your 24/7 Veterans News Source

  3. Mary O., Sunburst Booster Vice President Reply

    October 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you for helping spread the news about this wonderful program. We hope your article will reach another teen who needs a second chance in life. Sunburst is currently accepting applications for the class that starts in January, 2013. Come to the next orientation on 10/10/12 at 6 pm. Find us on Facebook for more info: http://www.facebook.com/sunburstyouthacademy

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