I went to Camp Bowers to see David Parks, the cadet at Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy whose story I have been covering for the paper. While I was waiting for David to be able to take a break, I talked to his math instructor, Mr. Chestnutt.
Mr. Chestnutt has seen several classes come and go at the academy. With those classes have come several life stories, many of which were unforgettable.
He told me of one cadet from a previous class, an 18-year-old young man who was living with a friend before coming to TCA. He had left home and had stayed with the friend while waiting on a new class to begin at the academy.
The boy worked very hard and graduated 22 weeks later. On Graduation Day, no one ever came to pick him up. One of the leaders (cadres) had to take the boy back to his friend’s house and drop him off, because he didn’t have anywhere else to go.
This weekend, the cadets are getting a pass to go home to spend Easter with their families. One of the cadets told Mr. Chestnutt this week that she would not be going home. Her mother had told her that she couldn’t afford the gas to come to pick her up.
I can’t say that I speak for everyone, but if my son or daughter was away from home for whatever reason, I would beg, borrow or steal to get the money to go get them if I didn’t have it.
In the case of the cadets at Tarheel ChalleNGe, these are teenagers who are trying to make changes in their lives. They could’ve just as easily chosen to keep going down the wrong path, but they want to change.
I could almost hear in Mr. Chestnutt’s words the pain he felt in his heart as he spoke about these cadets. Though it is worth it all to see those who, like David, are working hard and succeeding in the program, knowing that some of these cadets will go back out into the world to the same situations they are trying so hard to leave behind is such a disappointment, he said.
I realize that these youngsters all come from different backgrounds, but it seems to me that their parents would do anything to keep them on the right path when they get back home. I can’t imagine knowing that my child has worked so hard to accomplish so much, and I couldn’t even do my duty in helping him to stay straight.
A parent’s job is to be supportive and to encourage their children to be their very best. No matter how hard a family works, some youngsters still find that wrong path. Some times they choose to keep traveling in the wrong direction. But there are those like David who want to do a 180 and head back the way they came.
Instead of giving up on him, or worse yet, kicking him out of their lives, David’s family encouraged him. They allowed him to make the decision to change instead of trying to push him into it. By allowing him to make his own choice of entering the academy, he is there because he wants to be - not because he has to.
I have to admit, when I was first contacted about doing a story on David, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know much about the academy and I wondered what kind of person I would meet on my first trip to Fort Bragg to meet up with him during his ‘Hard Core’ phase.
When I saw the shy smile on his face when I asked him if I could “make him a star,” I knew that meeting him was going to have an impact on my life. I was so right.
I have talked to both his mother and his aunt several times in the past few weeks, and the sense of pride and support they show when I mention David’s name is amazing. They absolutely beam when they talk about his accomplishments in the academy.
David does the same when he talks about going home or getting to talk to his mom on the phone. He wants so badly to prove himself in everything that he does. He wants to make them proud.
Seeing a family like this gives a new meaning of the word, “courage.” They are working through a bad situation with encouragement, and David is using every ounce of that encouragement to work even harder.
Though I am still getting to know all of them, I could never express the amount of respect that I have for this family. They give me the hope that no matter how difficult a situation may be, there is a way to come through it stronger and smarter than you could’ve been before.
David’s family will soon see him cross the stage at his graduation from TCA. I will be there too. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
I’m sure my tears will flow when I see the smile on his face as he accepts his reward for the hardest 22 weeks of his life. I will cry not only for the pride I feel in him, but for the new-found friendship that I have made with this caring family from whom I‘ve learned so much already.
I only hope that I can be as much of a rock for my children as David’s family has been for him.
— Griffin is a staff writer with the Bladen Journal. She can be reached by phone at 862-4163 or by e-mail at email@example.com.