Before volunteering for the program these 16-18 year-olds were dropping out of high school, getting involved with drugs and alcohol and even entering gangs.
Cadet Darius Jacobs-Caldwell was on the verge of failing out. He says he entered the program to find guidance to better himself for the future and put him on the right track.
"I made the decision to come here. No one forced me to," Jacobs-Caldwell said.
The challenge lasts 17 months and has two phases. The first lasts 22 weeks and is spent at McCrady Training Center on the southeastern side of Fort Jackson in Eastover. The second phase is a 12 month post-residential phase where cadets are paired with mentors in their community. During the second phase the cadets and mentors will work together to move forward and stay out of trouble.
The cadets go through rigorous academic and physical training during the residential phase at McCrady Training Center. It focuses on eight core components, in order to prepare for their GED and life after graduation.
Joi Toliver, the program's Placement Coordinator, says the cadets come to this program unaware of their potential and she tries to help them see how valuable they are.
"These kids are diamonds in the rough. They just need people to shine them up. Someone to clean them up. And they shine when they do that," Toliver said.
That's the job of Master Sergeant and Senior Team Leader Mitchell Boyd. Boyd says he understands how difficult, but rewarding this challenge is.
"It's very hard and I know that from experience. I was a cadet here myself. I got caught with drugs at school and I got expelled. And if it wasn't for this program I wouldn't be where I am today," Boyd said.
Qwanda Caldwell, Darius' mother, says she misses her son, but she is ready to see a change in his behavior. She says she's ready to see him become a man.
"I cannot wait to see him. I'm expecting to see him, you know just be more of a man than what he was when he was at home," Caldwell said.
Darius says he is ready for the challenge and ready to make his family proud.
"I said I wasn't gonna come a million times. I didn't want to come here, but seeing that I followed through it and actually finished it is gonna make them proud, he said.
The South Carolina National Guard Youth Challenge reports 34 other Youth Challenge programs in 27 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico with over 100,000 total graduates since 1993.