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Rep. Napolitano, Sen. Landrieu Join MLB Hall of Famer Johnny Bench to Expand Youth ChalleNGe Program

February 25, 2014
Press Release
Promotes the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program at events on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon.

(Washington, DC) Today, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), Co-Chair and founder of the Congressional Youth ChalleNGe Caucus, joined U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Honorary Co-Chair of the National Guard Youth Foundation (NGYF), and members of the NGYF Board of Directors at a press conference to announce that Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench will serve as a national spokesman for the program.

The NGYF supports the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, a public-private partnership with the National Guard that intervenes with high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.

“I am proud to be here to continue support for a program that turns around the lives of so many forgotten youth,” Napolitano said. “Their future is a bipartisan issue. Our children deserve the attention from all sides, not one or the other, but all of us working together. We must continue to bring all agencies together, as this program not only benefits our youth; it benefits families, businesses, and is worth every penny to our society, community, state, and country. We thank Johnny Bench and look forward to working with him to help our young people, our future leaders.”

“In 1968, I was Rookie of the Year. I’m going to try and be Rookie of the Year again for this organization,” said Johnny Bench. “I never had the opportunity to go to college, but all my life I’ve had structure, and I think education is key. I feel we have a responsibility to ensure that today’s youth have the greatest opportunities. About 75 percent of the students who go into this program graduate with a GED or high school diploma, which is very encouraging. These students, who’ve fallen once, twice, or even three times, find this program and commit to making a difference. I’m excited to be a part of this great program, and I look forward to working with the people I know in the sports community and the leaders of this organization to make Youth ChalleNGe stronger and better for the next class of graduates.”

Bench’s new role as spokesperson will raise awareness of the dropout problem and the long-term positive impact ChalleNGe is having on the lives of more 9,000 youth every year.

“Every year, one million students drop out of school, some at the age of 12. That’s more than the populations of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, combined, and that is extremely disheartening” said Sen. Landrieu. "It is encouraging to see what bright, well-rounded and successful adults these participants of this program can become. From a purely financial perspective, for every $1 we spend on the Youth ChalleNGe program, we get $2.66 back – a 166 percent return on our investment. That’s a phenomenal investment for the government to make.  This program has the support of Democratic and Republican members of Congress and governor’s across the country. It’s a sound investment in this country’s future, and I look forward to working with Johnny Bench to expand this program.”

Napolitano in the afternoon traveled to the Pentagon where she addressed the directors of all 35 Youth ChalleNGe programs, urging them to reach out to their Congressional Representatives and business leaders. She also congratulated cadets and encouraged them to share their stories at a luncheon earlier in the day on Capitol Hill.

“Society had given up on us, but we were seeking change to become better people,” said Humberto Palacios, 2012 graduate of the Sunburst Academy. “The ChalleNGe program builds a home, something we never had; creates a family, something we always wanted; but most of all, it creates hope.”

“Persevere, and you can prove them wrong,” Napolitano said, addressing cadets at luncheon. “We believe in you, you have got to believe in yourselves. To all of you, we wish you continued success.”

Napolitano helped secure an additional $10 million in funding for the Youth ChalleNGe program for 2014, cosponsoring an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act of 2014, offered by Youth ChalleNGe Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.). California has two programs: Sunburst Academy (Los Alamitos) and Grizzly Academy (San Luis Obispo), graduating 700 students annually.

Every year, nearly one million students drop out of school, costing our economy $1.8 billion in lost revenue annually. ChalleNGe, found in two independent studies by MDRC and RAND to be cost-effective and successful in reengaging youth to complete their high school education, is a voluntary, second-chance program for youth who’ve dropped out of school. ChalleNGe has helped more than 120,000 youth since its inception in 1993. NGYF provides scholarships and facilitates internships and job opportunities for its graduates. 


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